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Samuel: ‘Be proactive’ against Zika

Many health organizations across the globe have expressed the potential risks of contracting the infamous Zika virus, concentrated mainly in high-risk areas, such as the Caribbean, Mexico and the majority of Central and South America.

According to the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) statistics, there have been 820 Zika cases reported in the United States and 27 in Virginia, all contracted by international travel. The virus is mainly transmitted by mosquito bite.

“There are no reported cases in this health district and certainly no concern in terms of mosquito-borne transmission,” said Piedmont Health District Director Dr. Alexander Samuel.

While Samuel emphasized there have yet to be any local cases — people contracting the virus through an American mosquito — he shared ways to proactively prevent mosquito bites.

The two mosquito species — the yellow fever mosquito and the Asian tiger mosquito — are “theoretically” capable of carrying the virus. They’re found in the Piedmont area and breed in containers, according to Samuel.

The district health director suggested people walk through their yards once a week to empty objects potentially carrying mosquito larvae as part of the department’s “Fight the Bite” campaign.

“It’s very likely that it’s going to be something we might have to deal with over the course of a couple years until we better understand it and have a sense of its foothold,” said Samuel.

He listed old tires, buckets, toys and birdbaths as examples, and said to buy larvicide as an extra defense against the birth of new mosquitos, which hatch into adults approximately a week after eggs are laid.

“Just be proactive in areas of your control,” said Samuel.

Outside of inspecting their yards, he advised people to wear more skin-covering clothing, reducing the area for mosquitoes to target and using repellent consistent of EPA and CDC-approved chemicals like DEET and Picaridin, found in Off!, Cutter, Cutter Advanced and Ultrathon.

Because Zika symptoms are similar to a cold, including joint aches, fever, rash and red eyes, and dissipate in 7-10 days, many people don’t realize they’ve contracted it, said Samuel.

He said health organizations are most concerned about the effects Zika when transmitted to pregnant women.

According to Samuel, the virus can potentially transfer to the unborn fetus and cause a birth defect known as microcephaly, causing the baby to form a smaller head resulting in damaged brain tissue.

Fetuses are particularly susceptible during the first trimester, according to Samuel.

“Our current recommendation is that pregnant ladies do not travel to Zika-infected countries,” he said.

He also recommended men who travel to a high-risk country to practice a “barrier birth control method” during sex, using contraception, like a condom, for eight weeks after returning to the country, extended to six months if he has contracted the virus.

“We don’t know a whole lot about the ecological variables here compared to where it seems to be more a fit in terms of that sort of transmission,” said Samuel, regarding the potential for local cases to spread to the United States.

“There are a lot of question marks. At the same time, we also understand that we want to operate under the most kind of caution (and) prepare for the worst, I would say at this stage.”