As temperatures rise, U.S. braces for Zika -, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

As temperatures rise, U.S. braces for Zika

Aedes aegypti originated in Africa, but in the age of air travel, it has spread to tropical and subtropical regions all over the world. (Source: John Tann/Flickr) Aedes aegypti originated in Africa, but in the age of air travel, it has spread to tropical and subtropical regions all over the world. (Source: John Tann/Flickr)

(RNN) - Last year's Zika outbreak came as a surprise. That won’t happen again.

Public health officials are prepared for the mosquito-borne disease that last year infected more than 5,000 people in the U.S.and hundreds of thousands more worldwide. 

Discovered in a monkey 1947 in Uganda, Zika was considered a minor disease and rarely showed up in humans until a major 2007 outbreak in Micronesia. It spread quickly through southeast Asia, Polynesia, and South America.

The link to severe birth defects was not established until a 2015 epidemic in Brazil. Last year, the disease exploded across the Americas, and the World Health Organization issued an international warning.

Most cases in the U.S. came from people who were infected in foreign countries. Efforts this year are focused on controlling local outbreaks, primarily in warm-weather states where mosquitoes are prevalent.

The U.S. escaped the brunt of the tragedy last year. Efforts are geared to keep it that way.

Zika risk in Southern states highest

States in the southern U.S. are on heightened alert to recognize and head off outbreaks of the Zika virus. The disease spread broadly in South America, the Caribbean and Puerto Rico last year, causing thousands of birth defects when mothers were infected with the virus during pregnancy. The U.S. had relatively minor outbreaks in Florida and Texas, with 263 reported cases that were locally acquired. Almost 5,000 other cases in the U.S. were acquired abroad.

Conversely, Brazil had more than 128,000 cases and the disease is still not under control. Puerto Rico has had more than 37,000 cases, with about 100 more reported as recently as January 2016.

Florida learns from last year

Zika got a foothold in the Miami-Dade area, where officials are already planning for the late-spring, early summer rainy season when mosquitoes thrive. In Florida, there were 257 confirmed cases of Zika confirmed to have originated in the U.S. Six more originated in Brownsville, TX, one as recently as last December.

Florida’s health department declared active zones of Zika transmission, then lifted those zones after 45 days with no more local cases

The state lifted all the zones by mid-December, but Miami-Dade and other parts of the state remain vigilant.

The culprit: Aedes aegypti

There are two kinds of Zika-carrying mosquitoes prevalent in the U.S., but only one poses a major threat of human transmission. Aedes aegypti, the most dangerous, has an estimated ranges that cover the southern half of the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control. It is also a carrier of dengue and chikungunya viruses.

A. aegypti prefer to feed on humans, and they are day biters, which makes them a far larger threat to carry the disease. Aedes alopictus are less of a threat because they feed on other mammals.

Experts and civic leaders gathered in Washington, DC, in late March to share information and help plan for Zika before mosquito season sets in.

Entomologists have started setting out traps a few weeks early because of the early spring – the mosquitoes thrive when ambient temperatures reach 65 degrees Fahrenheit, said Texas A&M entomologist Sonja L Swiger.

The traps help measure the numbers and spread of the A. aegypti, which breed in water that gathers in man-made containers. That includes buckets, kiddie pools and pool covers, wheelbarrows, trash-can lids, bowls, cups, trash, tires, plant dishes – anything that can hold a few centimeters of water for three to four days.

Prevention best medicine for Zika

The public can help by managing their own yards and eliminating potential breeding sites, Swiger said.

Look for anything that can hold water and put it up, or at least dump the water at least every few days. If the container is so big it has to remain outside, punch holes in the bottom so it will drain.

People should wear repellents when outdoors – those with DEET, picardin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, and IR3535 are effective. If you have to travel to a country with a Zika outbreak, use the repellents for two weeks while in the country and for two weeks after you return. Reapply often, as sweat or swimming will wash off the repellent.

Pregnant women should be particularly cautious.

The disease can also be transmitted sexually, so those who travel and contract Zika should have protected sex upon returning to the U.S. But about 80 percent of those who become infected show no symptoms at all, so protected sex is recommended for everyone who visits a tropical country where the disease is transmitted.

Women need to protect themselves for at least eight weeks and wait that long before attempting to conceive. Men should protect themselves for six months and should not have unprotected sex at all with a partner who is pregnant for the duration of the pregnancy.

Zika can also be transmitted by blood transfusion, which would be a rare occurrence in the U.S.

Vaccine years away

Human tests are underway on an experimental vaccine, but there are years of gathering data, studying results and further testing before it will be available.

More than 2,400 volunteers will be given either the vaccine or a placebo. The first step is to determine the optimal dose. Then the response of the subjects will be studied.

This vaccine is unlike others. Usually, vaccines contain dead or weakened versions of the virus which inform the immune system to fight the infection. This is a DNA vaccine that made with a piece of DNA that carries genes from the Zika virus that, once in the body, resembles Zika enough to trigger the immune system, cannot cause infection, according to the AP.

Other, more traditional vaccines are also being studied. Researchers warn that a widely available vaccine is years away.

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