Zika Virus: What You Need to Know

Where does it come from and who's at risk?

The Zika virus, primarily transmitted by mosquitoes, has raised significant concerns globally. While most reported cases in the United States involve individuals who traveled from countries with Zika outbreaks, recent investigations by the Centers for Disease Control have revealed cases of sexual transmission, particularly to pregnant women. This highlights the virus's potential to spread beyond mosquito bites, posing challenges for containment efforts.

Hawaii has declared a state of emergency due to the Zika virus, compounded by a dengue fever outbreak carried by the same mosquito species. The virus, first reported in Brazil in 2015, has since spread across South and Central America, the Caribbean, and other regions. Its association with birth abnormalities, particularly microcephaly, a condition resulting in incomplete brain development in infants, has led to grave concerns.

The World Health Organization has declared Zika an international public health emergency due to its rapid spread and the risk it poses to pregnant women. While most people experience mild symptoms such as rashes and joint pain, the focus remains on protecting pregnant women from the associated birth defects. Urgent research is underway to understand transmission modes and potential long-term effects, emphasizing the need for preventive measures and heightened public awareness.

Are we at risk of the Zika virus here in NJ?

The first case of the Zika Virus in New Jersey hit the news in January when a Colombian woman visiting Bergen County was confirmed to have the Zika virus. Zika virus is spread through mosquito bites, specifically, infected Aedes genus mosquitoes. These are the same mosquito species that carry dengue fever and chikungunya. While Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are the primary carriers, Aedes albopictus mosquitoes, also known as the Asian tiger mosquito, might also be transmitting the virus. Since Asian tiger mosquitoes are plentiful here in New Jersey, there is a risk of local Zika virus transmission in the future. According to Dina Fonsesca, an entomologist, and director of the Invasive and Emerging Disease Vectors Laboratory at Rutgers, there is the potential for the Zika virus to become a problem right here in the Garden State.

Fortunately, winter weather patterns here in New Jersey are not conducive to mosquitoes. As long as it’s cold outside, there’s no need to worry. However, this year we have had wet weather conditions this winter and spring because of El Nino. Once temperatures start to climb back up, we can expect a heavy mosquito season. According to Fonsesca, it will take until July for mosquitoes that are capable of transmitting Zika to establish themselves here. Mosquito larvae start hatching in May, and by July, the females have reached the stage in their reproductive cycle when they require a “blood meal” from a mammal (only female mosquitoes bite!).

How can you protect yourself?

Most importantly, if you are traveling internationally, be cautious if you are setting foot in areas where the Zika virus is known to be active. Prior to travel, check the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) travel alerts. If you are pregnant and thinking about traveling to an active Zika region, you may want to reconsider your travel plans to protect your baby given the seriousness of an infection.

Next, even if you are staying right here at the Jersey Shore, prepare yourself for the upcoming mosquito season. Practice vigilance in mosquito control by protecting yourself from coming into contact with mosquitoes and by eliminating breeding grounds around your home by eliminating any standing water.

How can I prevent mosquitoes and mosquito bites?

We are expecting heavy mosquito populations this season, and we want you, your family, and your pets to be able to enjoy your property. Please consider our Mosquito Defense Program.  By substantially reducing mosquito populations on your property, our program will reduce mosquito bites and the risk of contracting a mosquito-borne illness. For scheduling purposes, keep in mind that treatments typically begin around early May once temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees. 

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