Zika Virus leaves North Texas with Health Concerns

Zika Virus leaves North Texas with Health Concerns

by Susan Neuhalfen

News about a mosquito-borne virus that has shown to be transmitted through humans has been buzzing around North Texas and instilling worry into pregnant women, who are especially concerned because of the possible birth defects it can cause.

Zika is a mosquito-transmitted virus related to dengue, yellow fever and West Nile Virus.  It is not a new virus, having been found in Asia and Africa, but it is relatively new to the western hemisphere.

Experts say Zika is mainly associated with travel to Central and South America. Recent cases have been reported in Dallas, including one that was the first during the current outbreak that was transmitted sexually.

Normally, the virus is not spread through human contact.

According to the Denton County Health Services Department, Zika is spread from human to human after one is bitten by an infected Aedes mosquito. Aedes mosquitoes bite aggressively during the day.

The immediate concern has been for unborn babies because of an alarming connection between Zika and a neurological birth disorder that leaves the head and brain small and underdeveloped.

The Centers for Disease Control says the condition, called microcephaly, can cause seizures, developmental delay, intellectual disability, problems with movement and balance, difficulty swallowing, hearing loss and vision problems. In severe cases, microcephaly can be life threatening.

Doctors at two Houston hospitals have developed the first hospital-based rapid test for Zika. Dallas County has requested approval for testing to be done locally rather than having to ship samples off the Atlanta-based CDC.

The CDC recommends that pregnant women not travel to any areas where Zika is spreading. It also suggests using permethrin-treated clothing and gear. Insect repellents with DEET in them are safe for pregnant women to use when done according to the product label.

Closer to home, The City of Highland Village is contracting with Municipal Mosquito, a local mosquito management company, for the identification, control and eradication of mosquitoes which carry West Nile Virus, Chickungunya and Zika arborvirus.

Municipal Mosquito has performed mosquito management services, trained city staff to receive Texas Department of Health licenses to spray mosquito control chemicals around creeks and wooded areas throughout the city.

The Denton County Health Department is working with the healthcare provider community to increase awareness, testing and reporting of Zika in order to respond to any potential
local spread.

The health department is monitoring local, national and worldwide trends to determine the risks to the public health and pursuing vector control activities based on surveillance to reduce local impact.

Hollie Woodham, owner of Mosquito Joe of Northwest Dallas-Fort Worth, said people have already been inquiring about their services.

“We are getting calls and certainly I think the media does its job as far as putting that fear into our society,” she said. “We don’t market toward blood borne illnesses. We just try to educate and help customers understand.

“The good news is all of the patients that have been diagnosed have actually traveled to the area where ground zero is. I think when we get to the point where it’s a mosquito in Texas then, yes, that’s when it’s time to be concerned.”

When asked what the public can do immediately to alleviate the mosquito problem,  Woodham explained their process.

“We focus and partner with the homeowner to rid the yard of mosquitoes, fleas and ticks. Our product treats for about 30 other bugs.”

The services includes application of a barrier treatment. Generally, it’s about an acre of space that gets treated, where the family will spend most of their time. The product is has a purely natural base and it is safe for kids and dogs.

This type of treatment addresses the mature population that already exists then also builds a barrier to keep other mosquitoes from flying over it.

“They are lazy creatures,” Woodham said. “They only go about 200-300 feet in a lifetime.

When they’re traveling they are looking to find the next plant, flowering shrub to land crews also look for water sources that are areas that are going to breed mosquitoes, such as French drains and bird baths.

“A soda cap full of water is all a mosquito needs to breed. If we don’t address those sources we will repopulate the area very quickly.”

Mosquito Joe starts treating in the middle of March,  and this year crews are already getting calls and out working.

“The earlier you start the better you are because you get ahead of a very influx population. Some are active now because we’ve had a very mild winter.

Woodham notes that there are other more natural options people try themselves, such as citronella shrubs and rosemary. By-in-large, she believes, those aren’t as effective as a
professional treatment.

Tips to avoid mosquito bites

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants
  • Use mosquito repellents, coils etc.
  • Use air conditioning or window/door screens
  • Drain standing water from outdoor containers

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