10 months later: Full-time Zika staffers still active at CDC - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

10 months later: Full-time Zika staffers still active at CDC

Cooler temperatures are a signal that mosquito populations will soon drop, but Zika virus researchers say it's not yet time to relax. (Source: WALB) Cooler temperatures are a signal that mosquito populations will soon drop, but Zika virus researchers say it's not yet time to relax. (Source: WALB)
Victasha Lewis-Jackson is 36 weeks pregnant with a baby boy. (Source: Victasha Lewis-Jackson) Victasha Lewis-Jackson is 36 weeks pregnant with a baby boy. (Source: Victasha Lewis-Jackson)
"This is sort of like the hub for all activity CDC is coordinating when it comes to Zika," said Tom Skinner, CDC Spokesperson. (Source: WALB) "This is sort of like the hub for all activity CDC is coordinating when it comes to Zika," said Tom Skinner, CDC Spokesperson. (Source: WALB)
"Even the southern US, the Miami area as we move from October into November, we expect to see the mosquito populations begin to drop off," said Ben Beard, Acting Incident Manager for the CDC's Zika Virus Outbreak Response Team. (Source: WALB) "Even the southern US, the Miami area as we move from October into November, we expect to see the mosquito populations begin to drop off," said Ben Beard, Acting Incident Manager for the CDC's Zika Virus Outbreak Response Team. (Source: WALB)
"There's a lot of detrimental, sometimes catastrophic side effects that the baby can suffer from, including microcephaly, other abnormalities in the brain, eye defects, stillborn and miscarriage," said Dr. Paul Smurda, OB/GYN. (Source: WALB) "There's a lot of detrimental, sometimes catastrophic side effects that the baby can suffer from, including microcephaly, other abnormalities in the brain, eye defects, stillborn and miscarriage," said Dr. Paul Smurda, OB/GYN. (Source: WALB)
ATLANTA, GA (WALB) -

Cooler temperatures are a signal that mosquito populations will soon drop, but Zika virus researchers say it's not yet time to relax.

Victasha Lewis-Jackson is 36 weeks pregnant with a baby boy.

She and many other expecting mothers have the Zika virus in the back of their minds.

"It was something very scary just not knowing...not knowing if you may get bit by something or if you already have," said Jackson. "You want everything to develop correctly for them so they can become a nurse or a doctor or whatever they may want to be in life."

As the research continues, the question of when Zika will disappear remains.

"It's like, how long will this last? Even with that, it makes you feel what's next. Zika is just the start of things," said Jackson.

Officials with the CDC remind people to protect themselves from mosquito bites: 

  • Wear insect repellant
  • Remove standing water in and around your home to prevent breeding
  • Check travel restrictions from the CDC if you are pregnant or wanting to become pregnant

Scroll to see what's inside the CDC's Zika Emergency Operations Center.

Where we are

Another active Zika transmission area has been found in South Florida.

As of October 19th, there have been 4,016 cases of Zika reported in the US.

Of those cases, 137 were the cause of mosquito bites in Florida.

There have been 90 cases of the Zika virus in Georgia, but they are attributed to travel.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is restoring emergency funding for states and territories to fight the mosquito-borne virus.

Behind the scenes at the CDC headquarters in Atlanta -- the tension is high with staff members in emergency mode in the Emergency Operation Center.

"This is sort of like the hub for all activity CDC is coordinating when it comes to Zika," said Tom Skinner, CDC Spokesperson. 

Activated in late January, the EOC gathers an average of 400 staff members from across the organization each week into this one room -- all to combat the virus.

Fighting the virus

"Whether it's epidemiologists or people who are working in the lab, people with expertise in mosquitoes, people with expertise in pregnancy and birth defects...when an issue gets to be big enough that we know that we need to act fast, then we activate the ECO," said Skinner.

Different specialists work day in and day out to monitor Zika cases -- finding out how they were transmitted: locally or imported from other countries.

"We’re not surprised to see some local transmission here in the United States, particularly in areas like south Florida, the Miami beach area. We wouldn’t be surprised if we saw some cases along the Texas-Mexico border," said Skinner. 

Officials don't anticipate a wide spread of Zika in most of the continental US because of the different living conditions.

"Fortunately, a lot of our housing, we have screens on our windows, we have air conditioning. Mosquitoes don’t like to come indoors where the air conditioner works. They like hot, humid environments," said Skinner.

"Even the southern US, the Miami area as we move from October into November, we expect to see the mosquito populations begin to drop off," said Ben Beard, Acting Incident Manager for the CDC's Zika Virus Outbreak Response Team.

That means locally transmitted cases -- seen over the past few months in south Florida, will most likely drop, if not go away completely.

The history of the virus

According to Skinner, the virus has been around since the 1950s when it was recognized in the Zika forest in Africa.

Human cases weren't seen until 2007 on an island called Yap.

"Since then, there have been some limited outbreaks of Zika virus. Last year in Brazil, though, Zika really took off and started an outbreak in Brazil that has spread all the way up here to the United States now and to other parts of the world,” said Skinner.

The mosquito that carries the disease, the aedes egypti, prefers the indoors according to researchers.

"This mosquito, on average, lives for about a month or so. It doesn’t fly very far. It may fly the length of a couple football fields in its lifetime. It primarily feeds on human beings. The female, when she lays her eggs and needs to eat, she’ll bite four or five different people during one blood meal," said Skinner.

While the virus can have a serious impact on developing fetuses, officials said the virus itself is rarely fatal.

"Zika virus rarely, if ever, causes somebody to die. There have been instances where somebody who was really sick has died when Zika caused or contributed to their death. Those who do get sick usually have a self-limited illness," said Skinner.

What does this mean for expecting parents?

Even though the mosquito population is going to go down during the winter, and likely the Zika cases as well, the reason the CDC continues to work hard to fight against it is because of the potential harm for pregnant women and their babies.

The virus can be transferred from the woman to the developing fetus," said Beard.

Doctors can test a fetus if it shows symptoms, if the mother has traveled or tested positive for the virus.

"There's a lot of detrimental, sometimes catastrophic side effects that the baby can suffer from, including microcephaly, other abnormalities in the brain, eye defects, stillborn and miscarriage," said Dr. Paul Smurda, OB/GYN.

The CDC still has a travel restriction in place for women who are pregnant or looking to become pregnant, advising them not to travel to areas where local transmission is rampant, like Brazil and Puerto Rico.

Meanwhile, state and local health departments need to keep an eye on mosquito populations in their areas.

"We at CDC are actually giving out funds through CDC's epidemiology lab capacity grant, it's a cooperative agreement mechanism that we have with the state health departments primarily to provide funding to allow them to do active disease surveillance," said Beard.

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