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Zika Virus: An Emerging Mosquito-Borne Infection in the Americas

Discussing Zika and Aedes genus Mosquitoes

Over the past couple weeks Zika virus has taken the media by storm and US Health officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued an advisory for pregnant women traveling to areas where the virus is known to be active. While this is not a new disease, it is the first time we’ve seen it in the Western Hemisphere and it is a major cause for concern as we understand more about the potential link between Zika virus and birth defects such as microcephaly.

The Zika virus was first isolated from a rhesus macaque in Uganda in 1947 and documented in humans as early as 1968. The reason we haven’t heard much about Zika until now is that the vast majority of human cases present with little to no symptoms. In fact, the CDC reports that only 1 in 5 individuals who contract the virus will become ill, and those that do will experience mild flu-like symptoms including fever, rash, joint pain, headache and conjunctivitis (red eyes).

While the Zika virus is strongly suspected to cause a severe birth defect called microcephaly, underdevelopment of the head and brain, it is important to note that the virus belongs to a family of viruses (Flaviviridae) not previously linked with birth defects and these side effects have not been noted in countries with previous Zika outbreaks. Since Brazil’s first case of Zika was documented in May of 2015, the incidence of microcephaly cases has increased dramatically with over 4,000 cases being documented in recent months. At this point in time, the link between Zika and infant microcephaly is poorly understood and there is not a quick and easy test for the virus, therefore making research efforts difficult. As with many viruses, there is no treatment for Zika and because it was not previously believed to be a major health concern, there is also no vaccine.

Aedes_aegypti_Adult_MosquitoesZika is spread to humans by the Aedes genus of mosquito.  The most common vectors for transmitting Zika include Aedes aegypti (Yellow Fever mosquito) and Aedes albopictus (the Asian tiger mosquito), which are also responsible for spreading the dengue virus, yellow fever, and Chikungunya.  Despite the fact these mosquitoes are restricted to tropical and subtropical regions, they are found in all but two North, Central and South American countries and found throughout much of the southeastern United States.   Aedes mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus lay their eggs in standing water and often utilize artificial containers found in and around human dwellings.  As day biting mosquitoes, these individuals are most active during daylight hours and often found resting indoors as they seek cool shaded areas.  While the males of all mosquito species do not bite humans or animals, females need a blood meal to mature their eggs and the close proximity of these species to human habitats makes them an important vector for disease transmission.

As with any mosquito-borne disease, it is important to keep in mind that not every mosquito carries the virus and an integrated approach to prevention is typically the most effective. Control of these vector species often starts with mosquito surveillance and relies heavily upon the removal and modification of breeding sites through source reduction and minimized contact between mosquitoes and people.

Dumping a birdbath, removing a tire, unclogging a gutter or draining a potted plant that holds water are all examples of source reduction. You can do your part by making sure that you have no standing water on your property, wearing long sleeve pants and shirts when outdoors and utilizing repellents with DEET or oil of Lemon Eucalyptus.

Contact Us to Learn More About Effective Mosquito Management Strategies:

VDCI_Logo_squareSince 1992, Vector Disease Control International (VDCI) has taken pride in providing municipalities, mosquito abatement districts, industrial sites, planned communities, homeowners associations, and golf courses with the tools they need to run effective mosquito control programs. We are determined to protect the public health of the communities in which we operate. Our mosquito control professionals have over 100 years of combined experience in the field of public health, specifically vector disease control. We strive to provide the most effective and scientifically sound mosquito surveillance and control programs possible based on an Integrated Mosquito Management approach recommended by the American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). VDCI is the only company in the country that can manage all aspects of an integrated mosquito management program, from surveillance to disease testing to aerial application in emergency situations.