by Zachary Searles/News Editor
At the end of February, Maine saw its first case of the Zika virus, months after the first outbreak in South America. The person who was affected is older than 65 and had travelled to a Zika-affected country, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control.
According to Dr. Siiri Bennett, Maine’s state epidemiologist, this one case is not cause for widespread alarm.
“It’s important for the public to understand that the Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmits the Zika virus is not found in Maine and that your neighbor who has come home from a trip to South America cannot transmit the virus to you,” Bennett said in an interview with Bangor Daily News.
Then, last Tuesday, New Hampshire reported its first case of the Zika virus, a female who had sexual contact with a man that had travelled to a Zika-affected country. According to New Hampshire’s state epidemiologist Dr. Ben Chan, the women was not hospitalized and has recovered.
According to the CDC, as of February 24, there have been 107 reported cases of the Zika virus, all of which were due to travelling to countries where the Aedes aegypti mosquito is commonly found. Florida has the most confirmed cases, 28, which is largely due to the warm climate and the fact that it attracts many tourists.
The virus is transmitted primarily through mosquito bites, with the common symptoms being fever, rash and joint pain. People rarely die from the disease and are rarely sick enough to go to the hospital, so a lot of the time cases of the virus can go undocumented.
The Zika virus was first discovered in 1947 and was named after the Zika forest in Uganda. In 1952, the first human cases were documented. Fast forward 63 years and Brazil sees its first confirmed case. Then on February 1, the World Health Organization declared the virus to be a public health emergency of international concern.
Currently scientists are studying possible connections between pregnant women who contract the virus and microcephaly, a birth defect that causes babies to be born with unusually small heads. As of now, the CDC recommends that pregnant women delay any travelling to Zika-affected areas.
So how can you protect yourself against the Zika virus? Well, currently there is no vaccine or cure for the disease, and the countries that are being affected by it the most have yet to develop any kind of concrete plan to combat the virus.
Modern Pest Services, a family owned pest control company that’s headquartered in Brunswick and operates throughout New England, would like to remind people that the mosquito responsible for transmitting the disease does not reside in the Northeast.
“New Englander’s are understandably concerned with the new threat that Zika virus brings, and while the primary carrier the Aedes aegypti mosquito is not currently known to be in New England, there are over 40 different types of mosquitoes in the northeast that carry other harmful diseases like eastern equine encephalitis,” Mike Peaslee, technical manager and associate certified entomologist at Modern Pest Services, said in a press release.
Peaslee also pointed to the fact that the Aedes aegyptti mosquito thrives in warmer climates, and while New England typically has the cold on their side, due to unseasonably warm conditions it has now been made easier for warmer climate mosquitoes to spread.
“Taking precautions now to control our environment to create unfavorable conditions for mosquito breeding will help prevent the spread of all mosquito-transmitted diseases, like the Zika virus,” Peaslee said.
Peaslee and Modern Pest Services advocate getting rid of every form of standing water as mosquito season approaches to cut down on the breeding grounds for mosquitos. These forms of standing water include: buckets, tires and even things as small as bottles and cans. Kiddy pools are another good example of standing water. Peaslee says that you should keep them drained and even flip them over when not in use to prevent them from collecting rain water.
Modern Pest Services also stated that you should treat every area outside of your home as if it was a mosquito breeding ground, and “cover up exposed skin and wear bug spray to avoid getting bitten – or sick.”