By Dr. David Goodfriend
The Zika virus has been known for at least 60 years and has periodically caused outbreaks of disease. Last year it came to the Americas for the first time, spreading quickly in Brazil and to neighboring countries and, in January 2016, the Virginia Department of Health confirmed a case of Zika in an adult resident of Virginia who recently traveled to a country where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. Since then, over twenty additional imported cases of Zika have been documented in Virginia, mostly from our region.
Zika is spread to people from the bite of Asian tiger or Yellow Fever mosquitoes infected by biting other people who already have this infection. The Asian tiger mosquito is the most common nuisance mosquito in Virginia and peaks in July and August each year; it flies mainly during the day, breeds around your home in man-made containers such as bird baths, downspout extenders and flower pots, and can transmit a number of infections to you and your pet.
Most people infected with Zika feel completely fine and those who do become sick typically have mild symptoms, such fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes), lasting from several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon, but it can rarely cause a severe paralyzing condition called Guillain-Barre syndrome. Of greater concern is the significant impact this virus can have on a pregnant woman, including a serious condition in babies called microcephaly.
There is currently no vaccine to prevent and no medicine to treat Zika virus infection, so people do not need to see a doctor just because they are bitten by mosquitoes in Loudoun County. People who have been to countries with known locally transmitted Zika cases, though, should notify their doctor if they are pregnant or have these symptoms within 2 weeks of return.
Prevention is key to keeping yourself, your family and your community safe from Zika. While we don’t know whether the virus will infect our local mosquitoes, we do know that you can’t get Zika if you do not get bitten and that mosquitoes don’t transmit anything good. Additionally, travelers from areas with local Zika transmission can infect our mosquitoes if bitten. Stay safe by wearing mosquito repellent when outside each day, by dressing appropriately, and by removing mosquito breeding grounds around your home.
More information about Zika virus, including a checklist to get rid of mosquito breeding sites, is available on the Loudoun County website at www.loudoun.gov/zika or by emailing the Health Department at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Goodfriend is director of the Loudoun County Health Department.