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Health Advice
by Dr. Weiss

Jul 11, 2016
Summer brings warm balmy days, late afternoon thunderstorms, and—unfortunately—mosquitos.

These pesky little creatures are typically just an annoyance. But, over the centuries and now recently, they have been carriers of diseases which affect not only individuals but have also influenced history. Seventeen percent of all infectious diseases are vector borne, meaning they are transmitted by mosquitoes, ticks, flies, and other insects.

Currently we are concerned about Zika virus, which many believe is linked to a birth defect called microcephaly (literally an abnormally small head) and loss of pregnancy. Only one in five otherwise healthy non-pregnant people who have the misfortune of being bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus will have symptoms of a mild viral infection. These symptoms include a low-grade fever, non-specific rash, mild joint pain, red eyes, and body aches. There is no specific treatment and usually the illness resolves within a week.

Zika was first identified in monkeys in the Zika forest in Uganda in 1947, hence its name. It then migrated to humans in Nigeria and surrounding African countries in 1954. Subsequently there was an outbreak of a disease in 2007 on a small island off the north coast of Australia similar to Dengue fever; when evaluated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it turned out to be Zika. All this according to Florida’s former Surgeon General and Secretary of Health, Dr. John Armstrong.

In recent decades Zika infected regions in Central and South America, particularly Brazil. As of the beginning of 2016, there were 24 countries and territories with active Zika virus transmission.

Zika is only one of a few diseases spread by mosquitos. West Nile virus, chikungunya and dengue are all transmitted by mosquitos. As is malaria, the notorious disease which affected the building of the Panama Canal. There are many different species of mosquitos and most have particular habits for reproduction and preferred environments. The mosquito responsible for transmission of malaria has largely been eliminated in the continental United States.

The number of Americans living in humid, sub-tropical areas conducive to year-round mosquitos is 23 million of the approximately 320 million Americans. Sixty percent of these folks are concentrated along the East Coast, Gulf Coast, and much of the Midwest.

Mosquito control is important in controlling Zika and the other viruses spread by insects. The particular species of mosquito prefers to live around homes and dwellings in small areas of standing water. All the more reason to “drain and cover” any standing water. Make sure your screens are secure. Use insect repellant freely, particularly if you are going to be outside morning or evening. Proper clothing, long sleeves and covered legs can make a difference.

Public health measures have been very effective in the past, as evidenced by the almost complete elimination of dengue fever which has the same mosquito vector as Zika virus. Getting rid of the mosquito is the best defense for all. Travel related transmission, namely someone bringing back the infection from another country and being bitten by a mosquito which subsequently bites another person, can still occur but is rare. Sexual transmission has also been reported, but is rare.

Bottom line, if you are pregnant or contemplating pregnancy, be especially vigilant. Everyone, please police your surroundings for standing water and remove this hazard. Use mosquito repellant and appropriate clothing to avoid being bitten. Our public health service is on the case with mosquito control.

With increased worldwide travel, new ways of transmission become more common, but we will deal with this challenge effectively as we have with previous challenges.