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Are Mosquitoes Infected with Zika in Maine?

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Zika-in-MaineThe recent news about the Zika virus landing in the United States has grabbed headlines over the last few months. Fortunately, most experts believe that the chances of encountering a mosquito infected with the Zika virus here in Maine is very unlikely. Why? Because the type of mosquito known to carry Zika (Aedes aegypti) needs a warm, tropical climate to survive.

Still, Mainers are not completely out of the woods when it comes to exposure to Zika and two other mosquito borne illnesses that have already been found here. To date, Zika has been found as far away as Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands and as close as Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands.

While no locally transmitted Zika cases have been reported in the United States, cases have been reported in returning travelers from these and other tropical destinations. Officials are warning anyone traveling outside of the United States to take extra precautions to prevent mosquito bites.

Where is Zika now?

Mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus have been found in traps as far north as Massachusetts, but to date, none have been found in any of the mosquito traps here in Maine.

Still, local health officials are advising that all Maine residents remain vigilant, especially women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant.

“While we are not sure how far the Zika virus has spread, we are mostly worried because pregnant women can get the Zika virus during any part of their pregnancy,” says Patricia Stogsdill, MD. Stogsdill specializes in Internal Medicine and Infectious Disease and is the Medical Director of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at Maine Medical Center. “The infection can harm unborn babies by causing a birth defect called microcephaly, causing the baby’s head and brain to develop smaller than normal.”

Identifying people who have been infected with Zika virus can be difficult since the majority will not display any visible symptoms. In those who do, common symptoms include a sudden mild fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red, irritated eyes).

CDC: The threat of Zika in the U.S. is real

As recently as mid-April, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention published an updated map showing the potential for mosquitoes infected with Zika to appear in southern Maine. At that time, Maine heath officials were still optimistic about the unlikeliness of the virus reaching this far north.

When asked about Zika in an interview for WGME, Maine Medical Center Researcher Maggie Welch replied “I know the CDC just released a map in which southern Maine is at the top of the range [for the mosquito carrying Zika to travel], but we have yet to find it in the state.”

Nearly 700 cases of Zika have been reported across 30 U.S. states and its territories – with more than half of the cases located in Puerto Rico. While many do not expect a wide-scale outbreak of Zika in the continental U.S., officials are warning that Zika could still develop into a significant health problem if more attention – and funding – is not directed toward addressing any potential outbreak before it has the chance to spread.

In a recent letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee, Maine Independent Senator Angus King urged Congress to approve additional funding to fight the virus. Specifically, the funding would allow the “CDC to begin important preparations [such as] mosquito control, improvements to local laboratory capacity, data collection and other measures that would help us to better understand and address the dangers of the virus.”

King also stressed that the funding for fighting Zika should not come at the expense of other programs. “It’s essential that additional funding is allocated to prepare for Zika, so we can protect pregnant women, children, and families from this grave danger without jeopardizing other public health efforts.”

West Nile and EEE in Maine

Although the threat of Zika has garnered a lot of national and local attention recently, Mainers should also keep in mind that (at least) two other mosquito-borne diseases already exist in Maine. Cases of both Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) virus and West Nile virus (WNV) have occurred throughout Maine over the last several years. Additionally, cases of tick-borne Lyme Disease are also on the rise.

EEE virus is an alphavirus that is carried by bird species generally found in and around fresh water, swampy areas. The disease is spread by mosquitoes from bird to bird and potentially from bird to human. In most cases, a person infected with EEE will experience flu-like symptoms including fever and headaches. However, for people with certain nervous system infections, the disease can be fatal if symptoms are not immediately identified and treated.

Similar to EEE, WNV is also mobilized through migrating birds and mosquitoes. Common symptoms of WNV include fever, headache, body aches, and swollen lymph glands. In some cases, severe symptoms include high fever, vision loss, and paralysis.

For more information about West Nile, EEE, and other mosquito borne diseases in Maine, visit the Infectious Disease Epidemiology Program section on the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention’s website.

Reduce the mosquito population and reduce the risk of infection

In both cases, exposure to mosquitoes is one of the critical factors in determining an individual’s risk to contracting either disease. The more mosquitoes the person comes in contact with, the greater his/her chance is of being infected.

Some of the precautionary steps that experts recommend people take in order to reduce their exposure to mosquitoes include having an increased awareness around where, when, and what to wear when outdoors.

The best way to protect you and your family from mosquito bites this summer is to remember the ‘4 Ds’:

Dusk and Dawn: Avoid being outdoors when mosquitoes are most active.

Dress appropriately: Wear long sleeve shirts and pants when outside. Add a repellent for added protection

DEET: Insect repellents containing DEET are most effective. Alternatives to DEET include Picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus.

Drain: Mosquitoes can breed in any amount of stagnant water. Drain all sources of standing water on your property and encourage neighbors to do the same.

They can’t bite if they don’t breed

This last step – drain everything and anything that can hold water – will not only help you reduce the overall mosquito population in your yard, but in your neighbors’ yards as well. Mosquitoes typically only travel around 300 ft. during the course of their lives. So by reducing the number of potential breeding locations early in the season, you will also help reduce the likelihood of a major infestation occurring later on in the summer.

While every homeowner should actively take steps to reduce the number of mosquitoes breeding on their property, professional mosquito control services should also be considered. (See Lucas Tree Experts’ How To Reduce Mosquito Breeding Areas tips.) These trained specialists can help residents identify potential breeding areas and apply pesticides to control the adult mosquito population on site.

Lucas Residential offers complete programs for both mosquito control and tick control around your home and business.

Other Maine Mosquito Prevention and Zika References:

http://www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/infectious-disease/epi/vector-borne/zika/

http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/25/maine-sees-first-case-of-zika-virus-infection/

http://www.mainehealthlearningcenter.org/blog/should-you-be-worried-about-the-zika-virus/?gclid=COH4mMT21MwCFQZkhgodp9cMjA

http://wgme.com/news/local/cdc-zika-infected-mosquitoes-could-reach-southern-maine