by Lisa Rogers
Fort Bend Master Gardener
By now you have heard of the Zika virus that could potentially be a problem in the United States by the end of summer. A mosquito-transmitted virus identified in the Zika Forest of Uganda in 1947, it was known as a relatively harmless virus causing rashes, inflammation of the eyes and flu-like symptoms. In 2007 during an outbreak in the Pacific Islands, the Zika virus was associated with an increased incidence of Guillain-Barre syndrome—a neurological disease that can cause varying degrees of severe disability for unpredictable amounts of time. In the summer of 2015, it spread to Brazil and was associated with an increased incidence of microcephaly (smaller than expected head size with underdeveloped brains) in babies born to mothers infected with the Zika virus during pregnancy. There have also been rare cases confirmed of infected men transmitting the virus sexually.
Health officials in the US are very concerned about this virus because it is transmitted by a bite from an infected Aedes aegypti or Aedes albopictus mosquito. Both species are considered urban mosquitoes and both are abundant in Fort Bend County . They are usually considered daytime biting mosquitoes but may be active day and night. The legs of both of these mosquitoes appear black and white striped upon close observation. The thorax of the A. aegypti, also known as the Yellow Fever mosquito, has lyre shaped markings whereas the thorax of the A. albopictus, also known as the Asian Tiger mosquito, has a white line down the middle of the thorax.
Because of the risk of a Zika outbreak in the continental US, it is important to protect against these mosquitoes. Eliminating the habitat of the mosquito is the first line of defense. Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus typically breed in small debris and water filled containers–as small as a bottle cap. Remove or empty water weekly from anything that can hold water including, bird baths, flowerpots, buckets, tires, etc. Tightly close containers that hold water. If mesh is used on water containers make sure the mesh is small enough to keep adult mosquitoes out. Repair gaps and cracks in septic tanks and cover vent pipes with mesh. Mosquito dunks or pellets can be used in standing water that cannot be eliminated. These dunks/pellets contain a natural bacterial larvicide, BTI bacillus thuringiensis israelensis. The BTI kill the larvae before they grow into adult mosquitoes. Fill holes in trees with expanding foam. Keep doors, windows and screens in good repair. Use air conditioning when possible.
Prevent mosquito bites by not being outside when mosquitoes are most actively biting at dusk and dawn. When outside, wear loose fitting long pants and long sleeved shirts. For extended periods of time outside, consider treating clothing with permethrin to make it insect repellent or purchase clothing that is pretreated. Mosquitoes are attracted to smells and dark colors. Avoid smelly lotions, perfumes, colognes and dark colored clothing. When outside wear insect repel-lent on exposed skin. Insect repellents should be EPA approved to insure safety and effectiveness. Approved active in-gredients are DEET, Picaridin, Oil of lemon eucalyptus and IR3535. Refer to http://www.epa.gov/ for more information on concentrations and effectiveness of approved repellents, including product names. When using both sunscreen and repellent, apply sunscreen first. Allow it to dry then apply insect repellent. And, always follow directions listed on the repellent that you use!
Fort Bend County has had two cases of Zika virus confirmed to date. Both cases were acquired while traveling internationally. It is possible for that number to rise as the mosquito season progresses this year. By taking precautions, you’re less likely to be a part of the number. You’ll also be better protected against other mosquito borne diseases that have already been documented in our area!