EL CENTRO – The Imperial County Board of Supervisors held a special presentation Tuesday morning during the regular board meeting to inform the community about the Zika virus, its symptoms and ways to be protected.
According to Dr. Stephen Munday, Imperial County’s health officer, Zika is a disease caused by the Zika virus that is spread to people through the bite of an infected Aedes Species mosquito. Aedes Aegypti are small, black and white striped mosquitoes that are not native to California, and are most frequently found in tropical and subtropical areas of the world, such as Central America, the Caribbean, and Mexico.
“Although there is no evidence of mosquitos carrying Zika virus in Imperial County, or in the state of California, the public must be informed of the potential dangers, symptoms and how to protect themselves, especially those who plan to travel outside of the state,” said Munday. “There is no vaccine to prevent Zika virus at this time.”
The California Department of Public Health issued a news release stating that six cases of Zika virus have been confirmed in California since Jan. 29, all of which were contracted when traveling in other countries with Zika virus outbreaks in past years. CDPH will continue monitoring for any confirmed cases in California and will provide weekly updates every Friday. To protect patient confidentiality, specific locations of infected patients cannot be disclosed, according to the news release.
“The reason why I felt it was so important is because the State of Mexico is on a travel advisory and many of our citizens travel in that direction,” said Jesus “Jack” Terrazas, chairman of the board of supervisors. “We need to keep people informed.”
According to Munday, the virus has been detected in the Southern part of Mexico, but not in border areas.
“We (Imperial County) are not at risk at this time, but that doesn’t mean it cannot change in the future,” said Munday. “We are watching this situation closely.”
The centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued a travel alert (Level 2, practice enhanced precautions) for people traveling to regions and certain countries where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. These alerts include the countries and territories of American Samoa, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Curacao, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti Honduras, Jamaica, Martinique, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Tonga, Venezuela and Puerto Rico.
“Pregnant women or women wanting to get pregnant should be especially cautious when traveling,” said Munday.
Concerned with the proximity of Mexicali to Imperial County, District-1 Supervisor John Renison questioned if the Imperial County Health Department had been in contact with health representatives in that state.
“We are working bi-nationally on this matter,” said Robin Hodgkin, director of Imperial County Health Department. “We have held three meetings working around the issues.”
Symptoms of Zika virus typically begin two to seven days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Those symptoms include a fever, rash and joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). About one in five people infected with Zika will get sick. For people who get sick, the illness is usually mild. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected.
According to Munday, none of the six known cases of Zika virus in California occurred in Imperial County.
There have been reports of a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly (a condition in which a baby’s head is smaller than expected when compared to babies of the same sex and age) and other poor pregnancy outcomes in babies of mothers who were infected with Zika virus while pregnant. Knowledge of the link between Zika and these outcomes are evolving, but until more is known, Disease Control and Prevention recommends special precautions for those who are pregnant or those who are trying to get pregnant.
Additional viruses transmitted to people by the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitos include the dengue and chikungunya viruses.
Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent contraction of the Zika virus. The best way to prevent diseases spread by mosquitos is to avoid being bitten. In addition, residents should check yards weekly for water-filled containers, throw away or recycle water-holding containers that are not needed, cover or turn over empty containers or large objects to avoid them filling with water, clean and scrub bird baths and pet watering dishes weekly and dump the water from the overflow dishes under potted plants and flower pots. Also, check gutters for standing water and cover rain barrels with tight screening so that mosquitos cannot enter, fill tree holes and other cavities in plants with sand or soil, and check for hidden bodies of water such as wells, septic tanks, manholes or clogged drains.
The Public Health Department in Imperial County is taking safety measures to prevent and stop the possibility of the spread of the Zika virus. Public health staff members are working with doctors, clinics and hospitals in the County so that physicians will know what a case looks like and report it to public health officials. Staff is also working with community groups and organizations to share information about the Zika virus and mosquito prevention and the county vector control is conducting surveillance and mosquito abatement throughout the county.
If unusual numbers of mosquitos are detected or if residents are being bitten during the day, contact Vector Control immediately at (442) 265-1888.
For more information about Zika virus infection visit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html