Health Dept. expects to see more travel-related Zika virus cases
Now that it’s confirmed two locals contracted the Zika virus after traveling to Zika-prevalent areas, the Hamilton County Health Department is relying on residents’ individual efforts in trying to prevent the spread of the virus to the area.
“The best way to prevent Zika is to prevent mosquito bites,” said Bev Fulbright, epidemiology manager for the health department. The goal is to stop a local transmission, to keep a Chattanooga-bred mosquito from biting an affected individual and spreading Zika to another person.
In the neighborhoods where the two individuals live, the health department went door to door educating residents on dealing with mosquitoes.
The health department told the individuals with Zika the same things their neighbors heard: Ensure window screens are in good repair. Wear long-sleeved shirts, socks and closed-toe shoes. Comb the yard to “tip and toss” bodies of standing water even as small as a soda-bottle cap. Apply bug repellant.
The health department declined to name the neighborhoods in which it was going door-to-door.
The education campaign comes at a time when the Hamilton County Health Department expects the number of travel-related Zika cases here to grow. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assumed in its interim response plan for Zika that “local summer transmission may occur in limited areas” in the states before a vaccine could be developed.
According to the CDC’s plan issued July 31, Hamilton County is in the second level of response to the virus. There are four levels. At this level, the mosquitoes that could carry the virus live in the area. Travelers returning to the area are found carrying the virus. And Zika may be sexually transmitted from one human to another.
For one out of five people who have Zika, symptoms are mild. Most don’t show signs they have the virus. But according to Fulbright, “For pregnant women, it’s a tremendous concern,” for the virus can lead to birth defects such as microcephaly.
Zika worried some of the customers of Brad Ledford, the owner and operator of Mosquito Squad, a company that sprays for the buggers in Hamilton and Bradley Counties. Most of the people contacting Ledford this year simply wanted to enjoy their outdoor spaces mosquito-free. But Ledford wrote in an email, “Earlier this year, with the Zika reports, I had several new customers with concerns about Zika and pregnancy.”
The heat wave Chattanooga had over the last few days, combined with any standing water, was a boon for the mosquito population, Ledford said. Mosquito activity usually ends in late October when the first frost hits.
If there is a local transmission of Zika between now and then, the health department will consult with the Tennessee Department of Health to learn exactly how to respond. Still, the message of preventing bites and reducing standing water would remain the same.
Besides, taking these steps makes good sense, according to Dan Walker, an epidemiologist for Hamilton County. “There’s this focus on Zika, but there are other mosquito borne diseases too.”