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With Mosquito Season Approaching, Central Florida Takes Steps to Combat the Zika Virus

June 28, 2017

As we head into summer, concerns about Zika have begun to increase.

All across Florida, communities are preparing for mosquito season and making efforts to curb another potential outbreak of the mosquito-borne virus.

So far this year, there have been 50 travel-related cases of Zika infection and 4 cases of locally-acquired infection in the state. Last year, we had more than 1,400 cases of Zika in Florida, the majority of which were travel-related. According to recent reports, the Zika outbreak was introduced and spread in Florida in four different ways: three separate strains emerged in the Caribbean and then spread into Florida and another strain that began in Central America. Officials also discovered that local transmission of the virus began last spring before there was ever a confirmed local case. Florida’s climate and its proximity to Zika-affected countries makes our state more at risk for these outbreaks, according to experts.

It’s fair to say that most communities weren’t prepared for the scale of the outbreak we saw last year, and even as national agencies like the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) mobilized to help communities contain the virus, there was a lot we still didn’t know about Zika or the various ways the virus can spread.

Now, we know more and we’re using this knowledge to educate the population and reduce their risk of contracting this infection. Prevention efforts are underway here at Orlando Health and Orange County. Here’s what you need to know.

Background on the Zika Virus

The Zika virus is an infection spread by Aedes mosquitoes, which are native to the Western Hemisphere. The virus first emerged in the 1940s, but last year it spread rapidly throughout Central and Latin America, causing the CDC and World Health Organization to issue travel warnings urging pregnant women or those who intended to get pregnant in the near future to avoid traveling to countries with high rates of the virus.

The Zika virus often doesn’t have any symptoms and is not life threatening, but what makes this virus so concerning to health officials is that it has been linked to serious birth defects, such as microcephaly, a condition that causes babies to be born with small heads and is linked to  cognitive and developmental delays.

Both the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) have issued guidelines for sex after traveling to a Zika-affected country or after potential exposure. The WHO guidelines urge people who have traveled to these countries or been diagnosed with the virus to practice safe sex or abstain from sex for six months. The CDC guidelines urge men who have the virus to practice protected sex or abstinence for six months and recommend that women should wait eight weeks after traveling to a Zika-affected country or the date of their diagnosis with the virus before they try to get pregnant. Recent CDC data indicates 10 percent of pregnant women diagnosed with the virus last year gave birth to children with Zika-related birth defects.

Central Florida Zika Prevention Efforts

Orange County has launched mosquito control efforts to curb the spread of the Zika virus.

Last year, there were 797 suspected cases of Zika in the county. So far in 2017, there have been 159 suspected cases and county officials have visited more than 22,000 properties.

When someone is suspected to have Zika, a community physician evaluates them and orders a blood or urine test to determine a diagnosis. The Florida Department of Health reports these suspected cases before the test confirms a Zika diagnosis, and informs Orange County Mosquito Control of the location of the suspected case.

For every suspected Zika case, crews from Orange County Mosquito Control visit the location and remove breeding habitats and set traps. They also apply mosquito control materials in the area and leave additional information about mosquito safety. They return the next day to see if these traps have any Aedes mosquitoes in them and then test the mosquitoes for Zika.

County officials are ramping up their mosquito control and Zika awareness efforts as summer approaches. They are testing new mosquito control techniques, doing social media and other outreach to raise public awareness and have created a Mosquito Safety Toolkit available for download on the county’s site, which is written in four languages and is filled with tons of helpful information about Zika myths, mosquito bite prevention, Zika and pregnancy and more. The county also plans to increase its surveillance and abatement efforts and dispatch an emergency response team whenever there are suspected local cases of the virus.

At Orlando Health, we continue to provide the latest CDC and Florida Department of Health updates concerning the virus. We’ll also continue to provide the latest screening and testing protocols from these agencies to our ER departments and OB-GYNs.

If you are concerned about Zika, here are some things you can do to lower your risk of getting the virus:

  • Wear insect repellant when you are outdoors (pregnant women and women who are nursing should make sure they use EPA-approved repellents)
  • Wear long sleeve shirts and pants when outdoors to lower your risk of a mosquito bite.
  • Treat your clothes with the insecticide permethrin or buy clothing and gear treated with this material.
  • If you open a window, make sure there’s a screen behind it to prevent mosquitoes from getting indoors. Repair any holes in screen doors or windows to ensure mosquitoes don’t slip through.
  • Drain any standing or still water in your backyard to prevent mosquitoes from breeding.

Take these steps to prevent the virus. However, if you’ve been bitten by a mosquito and begin to experience flu-like symptoms, see a doctor right away. Again, the virus isn’t life-threatening, but it can cause complications if you are pregnant or intend to get pregnant soon. There’s no vaccine to treat Zika, but drinking enough fluids and getting plenty of rest can control the virus’s symptoms and help you get better sooner.

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