I was asked a few weeks ago if the collective “we” (meaning the whole state of Texas) were going to be ready for Zika. My answer was a cautious, “I think so”. If we’re not, it at least it won’t be for lack of trying.
Zika is a much different disease than West Nile virus. It has different vectors, mosquitoes that prefer to feed on humans over any other animal (unlike WNV mosquitoes, which mostly feed on birds). It is also very difficult to detect in wild mosquito populations. The mosquitoes are more difficult to control with spray trucks, so responding to local cases is going to depend more on public cooperation. Unlike WNV, it’s virtually undetectable in the blood supply, as there is no approved way to screen newly donated blood to see whether it has the Zika virus in it.
If Zika does make it into the country, it will also potentially affects more people. Any family with members of childbearing age will need to be on high alert.
The CDC recently released its response plan for Zika. It’s assumptions are sobering:
- Travel-associated and sexually-transmitted cases will continue to occur and are likely to increase. (we just don’t know how much!)
- Local transmission (spread) of Zika virus in US territories and affiliated Pacific Island countries is ongoing.
- Neither vaccines nor proven clinical treatments are expected to be available to treat or prevent Zika virus infections before local transmission begins nationwide.
- The ability for mosquito control efforts to reduce infection risks may be limited, as has been the case with similar viruses, such as dengue and chikungunya.
The entomology department, and especially my colleague Extension entomologist Dr. Sonja Swiger, has been busy in recent weeks trying to figure out how to best arm you with the best information on how to prepare for the “Summer of Zika”. As part of the effort, some new fact sheets are now available to answer some of the more common Zika questions.
- Zika Precautions for Women (ENTO-053) is a new publication outlining the most important steps women can take to protect themselves and their unborn children from Zika. Protecting women is the top priority for public health agencies this summer.
- What Texans Need to Know About Zika Virus (ENTO-052) General information about Zika, what causes it, whether you should be worried, and how to stop it. (Spanish Version)
- Mosquitoes and the Diseases they Transmit (ENTO-040) Provides an overview of all important disease carrying mosquitoes in Texas. Revised in 2016. (Spanish Version)
- Buzz Off (ENTO-055) A short reminder of the 4-Ds, the four ways to avoid mosquito bites. A quick safety reminder for yourself, friends and family.
- Do-it-yourself Backyard Mosquito Control (ENTO-054) An overview of all the mosquito control options available to you as a consumer. Advantages and disadvantages–what we know and don’t know about the many products out there (Spoiler alert: don’t buy bug zappers for mosquitoes. They kill insects and relatively few mosquitoes!).