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NCSU entomologist: Zika outbreak unlikely in NC

Entomologist discusses possibilities of Zika outbreak in NC

Michael Reiskind, N.C. State University entomologist, discusses the possibilities of a Zika outbreak in North Carolina. Reiskind says Triangle mosquitoes could transmit the virus, but an outbreak is not likely given our culture and climate.
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Michael Reiskind, N.C. State University entomologist, discusses the possibilities of a Zika outbreak in North Carolina. Reiskind says Triangle mosquitoes could transmit the virus, but an outbreak is not likely given our culture and climate.

Mosquitoes that live in North Carolina can transmit the virus that causes Zika, but an outbreak of the disease here is unlikely and would probably be mild and easy to contain, according to an entomologist at N.C. State University.

Michael Reiskind says the Asian tiger mosquito that’s so prevalent in the Triangle could carry Zika, though the virus has not yet been found in mosquitoes in the United States. Reiskind said several factors make a widespread outbreak of the disease unlikely in North Carolina.

For starters, Americans don’t have the same kind of exposure to mosquitoes that people in other countries do, he says. We spend less time outdoors and less time in crowds, where a mosquito is more likely to bite someone infected with the virus and then spread the virus by biting someone else.

Plus, cold weather limits exposure to mosquitoes to certain times of the year.

“We might see some transmission of Zika in the United States,” said Reiskind, a professor in NCSU’s entomology department. “But it’s more likely in South Florida, Texas and California.”

The Zika virus was first identified in the Zika Forest of Uganda in 1947. It has been found in Asia for several years, and more recently emerged in Central and South America.

It was likely moved from continent to continent by people who carry the virus in their bloodstream and are then bitten by a local mosquito, Reiskind said. The people who have been diagnosed with Zika in the United States contracted the virus outside the country, health officials say.

The mosquito that transmits the disease, Aedes aegypti, is very common in tropical countries and was once found in North Carolina before it was largely displaced by the Asian tiger mosquito.

We might see some transmission of Zika in the United States. But it’s more likely in South Florida, Texas and California.

Michael Reiskind, a professor in N.C. State University’s entomology department

“It’s a very difficult mosquito to control,’ Reiskind said. “It’s essentially domesticated to live around people. It’s kind of a pet mosquito.”

Only about one in five people infected with Zika actually get sick, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and then the symptoms most commonly resemble the flu, including fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis or red eyes.

It’s only because the virus has been associated with a birth defect known as microcephaly that world health officials have raised an alarm. Microcephaly is characterized by smaller heads and poorer mental functioning in babies and has only been associated with Zika in Brazil.

It’s not clear yet why. It could be that the virus has mutated in Brazil in a way that causes the condition, Reiskind said. Or it could be something related to Zika, such as a side effect of a local pain reliever that pregnant women are taking to combat the better-known symptoms of Zika.

As with any mosquito-borne illness, the best way to prevent infection is to avoid mosquito bites.

That uncertainty, and the seriousness of microcephaly, have prompted the CDC to issue a warning for pregnant women traveling to Central and South America, and why several countries affected by Zika have discouraged women from getting pregnant.

As with any mosquito-borne illness, the best way to prevent infection is to avoid mosquito bites. That means wearing insect repellant and long pants and sleeves outdoors, and taking steps to eliminate standing water around your home where mosquitoes breed.

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling

The latest on the Zika virus

▪ The Brazilian Health Ministry says Brazil’s health minister and the U.S. secretary of Bealth and human Services have discussed ways the two countries can work together to create a vaccine against the virus and to combat the Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmits the virus.

▪ The Brazilian city of Cappivari is cancelling its Carnival celebrations and will use the money set aside for the annual festivities to fight the mosquito that carries the Zika virus and other diseases.

▪ Health officials say a patient in Dallas County, Texas, has acquired the Zika virus through sex. Dallas County Health and Human Services said it received confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the patient was infected after having sexual contact with an ill person who returned from a country where Zika was present.

▪ Nicaragua is confirming its first two cases of the Zika virus in pregnant women, and Chile is reporting its first case of a person infected with the virus.

▪ Swiss International Air Lines says female flight attendants and pilots won’t be required to fly to Sao Paulo, Brazil, if they don’t want to because of the Zika virus outbreak. The Swiss carrier said in a statement that it’s advising any pilot or member of a cabin crew who is “in the phase of family planning” to speak with their gynecologist before flying to Brazil.

▪ UNICEF is asking for $9 million for its programs in the Americas to curb the spread of the virus and lessen its impact on babies and their families across the region.

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