the March 7 Board of Commissioners' meeting, Dr. Sheila Davies,
director of the Dare County Public Health Division, gave an
update on the Zika virus – the most recent mosquito-related virus to
garner international attention.
update was a timely one, considering that the warm weather on Hatteras
Island has seemingly brought with it the first batch of mosquitoes and
mosquito bite -- locals have been swatting and scratching since early
Zika virus is a mosquito-borne emerging arbovirus that was first
identified in Uganda in 1947, and which is related to dengue, yellow
fever, Japanese encephalitis, and the West Nile virus. Since 2007, the
world has seen Zika outbreaks in Gabon, Micronesia, and French
Polynesia, and since 2015, there have been endemic transmissions in
Central and South America.
because the virus has traveled to continents close to home, it’s
projected that North America will see an uptick of Zika virus cases in
the months and years to come.
Zika virus is transmitted through mosquitoes, but may also be
transmitted from ticks and fleas, which as any local will tell you,
have been particularly bad this year.
like headache, fever, and joint or muscle pain can appear within two to
seven days of being infected and are “as uncomfortable as the flu,”
according to Davies, although only one in five people may actually
experience symptoms once they have contracted the virus.
good news is that for the most part, contracting the Zika virus is not
life-threatening, but the big concern is the impact on pregnant women.
However, the virus can cause birth defects in children, which is what
brought it into the public eye.
to Davies, between 2015 and 2016, there were 4,750 cases of
microcephaly birth defects in Brazil, whereas in 2014 there were just
150 cases. Microcephaly is condition in which a baby's head is
significantly smaller than normal.
huge jump is what prompted the World Health Organization and the CDC to
say ‘We need to get more information out there for people, and really
focus on the prevention,’" said Davies at the meeting.
World Health Organization declared a “Public Health Emergency of
International Concern” in response on Feb. 1, and in the United States,
President Obama called for a national response – including tests,
vaccines, treatments, and increased outreach – on Jan. 27. The first
U.S. case in Dallas County, Texas, was reported just a week later on
Feb. 2, which was reportedly sexually transmitted by a traveler who has
been to Venezuela.
far, 107 cases of the Zika virus have been identified in the United
States, which includes five in North Carolina -- a relatively small
number when compared to other countries across the globe. In addition,
all of the cases in North Carolina were travel-related, which means
that there were no cases that originated with a local mosquito bite.
Dare County and North Carolina, the preparation for the Zika virus has
been similar to the preparation for the potential Ebola virus outbreak.
Statewide conference calls and webinars with state partners were held,
news releases were sent to media outlets, and information was sent to
heath care providers to ensure the public and the instrumental parties
involved were all on the same page.
the ongoing Dare County response includes testing at the local health
department --Davies noted that several pregnant women have already come
in to be tested -- communication with DHHS boards and Dare BOC, public
health staff preparedness, and communication with area providers and
the public, there is now a website set up at http://darenc.com/zika/,
where locals and visitors can garner a wealth of data on the virus –
from facts to prevention steps - and keep up-to-date on any ongoing
information on the virus as it is acquired.
most important factor in heading off the virus is prevention, and at
the meeting, Davies outlined how travelers can best protect themselves
-- and their communities -- from contracting Zika and bringing it home.
traveling, visitors should use insect repellent, wear long-sleeved
shirts and pants, and treat clothes with insecticide as needed.
Accommodations in other countries where the virus has been prevalent
should have door or window screens, and/or air conditioners, to prevent
mosquitoes from entering.
two weeks after travelers return, they should also look out for
symptoms of Zika, such as fever, joint, muscle or eye pain, and/or a
rash, and should contact a doctor immediately if any of these symptoms
though the virus is still being studied, research shows that it can be
sexually transmitted, so travelers will want to use protection abroad
and/or when they return home.
also noted that Dare County has a very robust mosquito population, and
encouraged the public to take steps in reducing the number of
mosquitoes close to home. These steps include:
- Eliminating standing water in and around your home (which can serve as mosquito breeding grounds)
- Repairing cracks and gaps, and covering open vents and/or pipes on septic tanks
- Keeping mosquitoes out of your home
- Preventing mosquito bites
and visitors should note that the Zika virus is not the biggest
mosquito-related threat in the county – that honor goes to the
West Nile virus and eastern equine encephalitis, historically – but
it’s still something to pay attention to and be aware of, especially
for pregnant women.
while the U.S. has yet to see an outbreak of the Zika virus, Dare
County residents who are aware and take steps to ward off the local
mosquitoes will be a step ahead of the game in case the number of
state-side cases rise.