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The nation is on high alert for the Zika virus – and rightfully so, says Richard Duhrkopf, PhD, associate professor of biology in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences and nationally recognized expert on mosquitoes. In the following Q&A, Duhrkopf provides an update on national and statewide (Texas) efforts and gives tips to avoid mosquitoes known to carry Zika (Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus), which, he says, are different from those that carry other viruses such as West Nile.
Q: Zika appears in daily headlines throughout the country. What is the status of Zika in the United States and in Texas?
A: As of mid-June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed 234 cases of Zika virus in the U.S., with 44 of those in Texas. To date, all of them have been categorized as “imported,” meaning someone traveled outside the country and became infected. This is the kind of thing you can’t actually prevent, but you can prepare for it and develop a response that will help to reduce the severity.
Q: What steps are being taken to gauge and assess any transmission of the virus?
A: There are many ways Zika virus is quite different from West Nile virus of 10 years ago. One of the biggest differences is in the steps that are being taken to deal with it. West Nile surprised us on so many levels, and as a result we were behind the curve for quite a while. It has been obvious for about three years that Zika virus would come here, and we have been working to deal with it. Nationally, the CDC has asked President Obama for money to help combat the threat. The President asked Congress for funds in February, but Congress has not acted on the request.
The state of Texas expects to be one of the states where this virus can be a problem. Texas has the mosquitoes that transmit the virus, and our summer weather patterns, particularly in the eastern part of the state, are ideal for those mosquitoes. The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) has a branch that deals with diseases like this. They have convened a panel of mosquito control experts to help in formulating a response. I have been an active member of that panel. My lab here at Baylor will be one of the sites in Texas that will be identifying mosquitoes caught throughout the state. The problem, of course, is that Texas lacks the funds to carry out the planned response and is waiting for the federal money to be approved. DSHS has set up a web site to provide information. The site is texaszika.org.
Q: What, specifically, has been your role in studying/understanding Zika?
A: I have been involved nationally. I am on the board of directors of The American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA). The AMCA has been identified by the CDC as an exclusive provider of informational resources for mosquito control. That means we will be developing training programs to teach modern processes of mosquito control where they are needed.
At the state level, I am also on the board of directors of the Texas Mosquito Control Association (TMCA). The TMCA recently held a two-day workshop here in Waco, where we trained workers from all over the state in current processes of mosquito control. Additionally, as I discussed above, I have been working with DSHS officials in developing a response plan.
Q: Are there any special steps people need to take to avoid mosquitoes carrying Zika?
A: The mosquitoes that transmit Zika are different from those that transmit West Nile Virus. The Zika mosquitoes are what we call “container breeding” mosquitoes, meaning the larvae develop in water in small containers (using a rather broad definition of “containers”). So, the first step is to make sure there is nothing in our yard or around our house that collects water. These mosquitoes breed in things like discarded tires, rain gutters that are clogged, bird baths that have not had the water changed, and even small things like discarded coffee cups under a bush or even part of an old plastic garbage bag that is crumbled up in the grass.
These mosquitoes bite at all times of the day. Avoiding going out at dusk and dawn is not particularly useful in avoiding these mosquitoes. Repellents do an excellent job of preventing bites, as do long pants.
Source Baylor University