Oakland County IDs strategies to prevent Zika virus

By: Terry Oparka, Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | C&G Newspapers | Published February 22, 2016

Infographic courtesy of shutterstock.com

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Although there have been no confirmed cases of the mosquito-borne Zika virus locally, the Oakland County Health Department said it has a plan in place to help prevent an outbreak, should the mosquito make its way to Michigan. 

According to Dr. Christopher Carpenter, chief of infectious disease for Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, mosquitoes carrying the virus are expected to reach the U.S. sometime this year or early next year, and pregnant women and those trying to become pregnant are at greatest risk for the adverse effects of the Zika virus. 

“For the general healthy person this does not pose that much of a threat,”  Carpenter said in a prepared statement. “The big concern is what having the infection means for a pregnant woman and her baby, due to the strong association between Zika and microcephaly.”

Microcephaly is a severe birth defect in which babies are born with abnormally small heads. According to Dr. Irvin Kappy, service chief of pediatrics for Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, microcephaly is diagnosed with ultrasounds. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is currently the only agency performing antibody testing on pregnant mothers, meaning blood tests for Zika are not commercially available, Kappy said. 

Kappy said doctors have to rule out other possible factors that cause microcephaly — including syphilis, genetic conditions and other viral infections — because microcephaly doesn’t necessarily mean the mother has the Zika virus.

Carpenter said that in Brazil, where Zika virus infections have increased “exponentially” in the last year, there has been a 20-fold increase in the incidence of microcephaly. 

As for mothers who are breastfeeding, it is uncertain whether the virus can be transmitted through their milk. In South and Central America, Kappy said, specialists recommend mothers continue breastfeeding. However, he said, there have been reports of the virus being sexually transmitted, and birth control is recommended for women who have possibly contracted the virus.

“A lot of research still needs to be done on this,” Kappy said.

 

Symptoms

The four primary symptoms of Zika infection are fever, rash, muscle/joint pain and conjunctivitis, a painful inflammation of the eye. Kappy said the Zika virus causes symptoms similar to two other mosquito-borne illnesses: dengue fever and chikungunya. 

Within the general population, only 20 percent of those infected actually get sick, and even then, the symptoms are generally mild, though some may suffer a neurological complication called Guillain-Barre syndrome. 

The biggest risk is in traveling to areas where infection is “endemic,” including Mexico, the Caribbean, South America and Brazil, Dr. Matthew Sims,  director of infectious disease research at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, said in a prepared statement. 

Currently, the primary carrier of the virus is a species of mosquito known as Aedes aegypti, found in the southern portion of the United States, including Florida, South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico and Arizona.

There is also concern that Zika virus may adapt to be transmitted by a mosquito known as Aedes albopictus, which has not reached Michigan but has been found as far north as Illinois.

The CDC is currently advising pregnant women to consider postponing travel to areas with Zika virus activity. 

Pregnant women who cannot postpone visiting affected countries should consult with a travel clinic, according to the CDC. 

Carpenter said that while the general population, for the most part, has little to fear from Zika virus infection, travelers need to be aware and protect themselves from other mosquito-borne illnesses, such as dengue and chikungunya, yellow fever, and malaria, and take proper precautions.

“If you’re going to travel, just be smart,” Carpenter said.

Kappy said that there is no vaccine for the Zika virus, and there is no treatment. 

“People who have contracted it and traveled back to the U.S. have shown symptoms. There’s nobody that’s contracted Zika in the U.S. It’s going to happen. It’s a matter of time before it happens,” Kappy said. 

 

Action plan 

George Miller, director of the Oakland County Department of Health and Human Services, said Feb. 19 that of the eight tests conducted for the Zika virus in Oakland County, six have been confirmed negative and two are awaiting results. 

“We really want to get a jump start,” Miller said. 

The Oakland County Health Division will meet with department of public works staff from municipalities in Oakland County March 4 on methods of mosquito prevention and control. 

“We’ll be meeting with department of public works employees to share prevention methods we support,” Miller said. 

“We will start trapping for the mosquito in June,” Miller said. He said that in recent years, but not this year, the mosquito had been discovered in southern Ohio. He noted that the state entomologist has told them the state is not aware that that breed of mosquito has ever been in Michigan. 

Miller said that while municipalities and the county will be spraying large green areas to eradicate the mosquitoes, “you can’t take all the mosquitoes.” He noted that a strong wind could blow them in from other areas. 

“This something that is preventable,” he said. He said that people should get outside and enjoy the parks and the outdoors, but “do what they can to reduce any kind of bites they may be getting.” 

Kappy applauded the Oakland County Health Division for being proactive, because although the virus is not currently in Michigan, “You never know down the road what it’s going to be. Mostly likely, this will spread to at least southeastern United States,” he said. 

The Oakland County Health Department will distribute educational posters to all obstetrics/gynecological providers, and at Oakland County parks and other outdoor facilities. 

The CDC and Oakland County will have up-to-date  have information about the Zika virus available at www.oakgov.com/health and www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html.

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