By Andrew Fortin
The Zika virus has been making a lot of headlines lately. An outbreak of the virus in Brazil and a possible correlation between Zika and birth defects has generated a lot of concern. Closer to home, the fact that the mosquito that carries the virus can be found year around in South Florida and seasonal over much of the Eastern U.S. has also caused some alarm. The reality is that mosquitos in general can be a vector for a variety of illnesses. The best weapon against any health threat is information. So we thought we’d take a look at what the Zika virus is, how it spreads, and what steps you can take to mitigate the risk of the virus in your community and address any concerns that may arise from your community members.
It is important to remember that Zika is just one of many diseases the can be spread by mosquitos. Many of the other infections that mosquitos can spread are far more dangerous like West Nile, yellow fever, encephalitis, Dengue fever and Malaria. Despite the seeming danger of these many diseases, the proven and best way to prevent their transmission is taking proper precautions to prevent mosquito bites and to eliminate conditions that favor mosquito breeding.
What is the Zika Virus?
Interestingly, Zika virus is nothing new. It was originally discovered by scientists in 1947 and is named after a forest in Uganda where it was first found. Since then there have been periodic outbreaks of Zika related illness in various tropical or subtropical areas of the world. In nearly all cases, according to the CDC, Zika infections result in a mild illness characterized by fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes. The infection rarely requires hospitalization and once the infection clears, scientists believe that the person is then immune from future infections.
More recently, an outbreak of Zika virus in Brazil has led to an increase among pregnant women of a specific birth defect called microcephaly, a condition which impacts the development of the brain size and head of children. This has been the cause of the interest and concern regarding the spread of Zika and the mosquitos that carry it. While there is a correlation to Zika infection and the incidents of microcephaly, the CDC indicates that a direct causal link between the two has yet to be determined. This provides little reassurance for residents in areas where the virus may spread this summer.
How Does Zika Spread?
Zika is spread primarily by mosquito bites. The specific species of mosquito that carries Zika is actually active during the daytime, as opposed to the mosquitos that plague us in the evening hours. Southern Florida is currently the only area of the United States where these mosquitos are active year around, so the risk there is higher than in other states. You can find a map of where the Zika risk exists at this link. It is important to acknowledge that at the time of this article, the only cases of Zika on the mainland U.S. were contracted during travel overseas.
How Can Communities Respond?
First, the best way to prevent any mosquito-borne illness is to prevent mosquitos! This is true for any mosquito-borne illness. Thankfully, mosquito mitigation is something that is well understood and simple to put into action. The most important task any homeowner or association can take is to remove or eliminate any areas or sources of standing water. Those catch basins we put under our potted plants are one of the biggest sources of mosquito breeding; make sure they aren’t retaining water. Second, many municipalities and communities engage professional mosquito control specialists to spray areas where mosquitos exist such as common areas or areas near standing bodies of water. Engaging a professional is the best way to make sure that the spraying methods are in line with current consumer protections regulating insecticides.
For homeowners and individuals, there are a host of steps that can be taken to repel mosquitos. The CDC recommends wearing long sleeves and pants when mosquitos are most active or applying mosquito repellent to exposed areas of the body. A great organic way of controlling mosquitos is attracting bats! Bats can eat their weight in mosquitos each day. Building a bat shelter can help attract these beneficial mammals, just make sure they don’t run afoul of community rules.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has an excellent website with information on Zika, it includes steps you can take to mitigate mosquito breeding and to protect yourself from mosquito bites. It includes many helpful posters you can print and post in your community.
- CDC Zika Website – http://www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html
- CDC Facts about Zika – http://www.cdc.gov/zika/about/index.html
- Zika and Pregnancy – http://www.cdc.gov/zika/pregnancy/index.html
- Posters and resources – http://www.cdc.gov/zika/fs-posters/index.html
- Mosquito control (EPA) – https://www.epa.gov/mosquitocontrol
Andrew S. Fortin is the Senior Vice President of External Affairs for Associa. He works to engage government officials, the media and clients in building stronger community associations and help shape laws that support vibrant community associations.