The dreadful Zika virus is scaring people around the world, so it was perhaps inevitable that airliners would eventually bring it here. And yes, on Mar. 24 the County of Maui and Maui County District Health Officer Dr. Lorrin Pang confirmed that a resident (who has not been identified) is “suspected” of being infected with the virus after returning from a trip overseas in February.
“While initial lab tests were not conclusive, results did warrant further testing and pointed to a high probability of Zika, which carries other, more serious impacts than Dengue Fever,” states a joint news release sent out yesterday by both the county and Pang.
Confirmed or not, local health officials are using this case to warn Maui County residents about the dangers of mosquito-borne diseases like Zika and Dengue Fever.
“Because the lab results thus far point to the high probability of Zika, we are taking this very seriously,” Pang said in the news release. “We need the public’s help in preventing the spread of whichever virus caused the illness so that we don’t get locally transmitted cases. The best way to do this is to eliminate mosquito breeding sites and make sure people avoid getting mosquito bites.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Zika virus is “primarily” transmitted to humans through bites from either the Aedes mosquito species (who transmit it after biting an infected human, and so forth), but it can also travel from a pregnant mother to her newborn at the time of birth or through sexual contact with a male who’s contracted the disease.
“Most people infected with Zika virus won’t even know they have the disease because they won’t have symptoms,” states the CDC’s website on Zika. “The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache. The incubation period (the time from exposure to symptoms) for Zika virus disease is not known, but is likely to be a few days to a week.”
There is no vaccine or cure for Zika. While the death rate for those infected is low, there is a high risk of serious complications for fetuses and infants if a pregnant woman is infected.
“Zika virus can be spread from a pregnant woman to her fetus and has been linked to a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly in babies of mothers who had Zika virus while pregnant,” states the CDC. “Other problems have been detected among fetuses and infants infected with Zika virus before birth, such as absent or poorly developed brain structures, defects of the eye, hearing deficits, and impaired growth.”
For these reasons, county officials and Pang are urging residents to take precautions against potential mosquito breeding sites at home and getting bitten while outdoors (though the request that everyone wear “light-colored clothing with long sleeves, pants, shoes and socks when outdoors” will probably not get a lot of traction given that this is Maui).
“Residents should fix broken window and door screens at home, and get rid of standing water in the yard,” states the Mar. 24 press release. “Old tires, buckets, toys and plants, especially bromeliads, can become breeding sites for mosquitos. A mixture of soapy water (1 teaspoon of liquid dish soap to 16 ounces of water in a spray bottle) can be sprayed on backyard plants to control mosquito larvae.”
Again: it’s still only suspected that this Maui resident is still only suspected of carrying the Zika virus, and if indeed this person is carrying the disease, then he or she caught it abroad and brought it here.
“If you receive a flyer or letter from the Department of Health, please be sure to read the information carefully, as this public health issue affects us all,” said Mayor Alan Arakawa in the news release. “This is the time for our community to step up efforts to ‘fight the bite,’ by seeing a doctor if you have even mild symptoms, especially if you have traveled to parts of the world where there are outbreaks of these viruses.”
Photo of Aedes aegpti mosquito biting someone: U.S. Department of Agriculture/Wikimedia Commons