Zika virus: Long Beach health officials warn of looming threat

 

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Long Beach health officials say they need residents to be on guard for the mosquito species that carry the zika virus.

The outbreak, which started in South America in 2015 in Brazil has been “marching north,” Dr. Anissa Davis, city health officer for the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services said. “Because of this, we have higher concern that local transmission could happen.”

Long Beach public health officials are delivering zika prevention tips on social media posts associated with the tagline #ZikaFreeLB. They have also set up a hotline for people to report sightings of the two mosquito species that carry zika: aedes aeqypti and aedes albopictus. The insects have white bands around their legs and tend to be more aggressive than the mosquitos that Southern Californians are accustomed to coping with, preferring to attack their victims during the day.

“They prefer to bite humans,” said Emily Holman, an emerging infectious disease response coordinator for the city health department.

Long Beach health officials say their greatest zika-related concern is the risk of infection to pregnant women, since the disease can cause serious birth defects.

Officials know of six Long Beach residents who have had zika, none of whom caught the disease locally. Mosquitos of at least one species known to carry the disease have been observed in locales near Long Beach, including Bellflower, Carson, Cerritos, Downey, Hawaiian Gardens, Los Alamitos and Paramount. A California Department of Public Health map updated on April 14 lists those places.

ZIKA FACTS

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel warning in mid-March advising pregnant women to avoid any place in Mexico lower than 6,500 feet in altitude, and for Mexico-bound travelers to take precautions against transmission of the virus. The CDC also last year advised pregnant women to avoid Miami-Dade County, as well as the south Texas town of Brownsville because of the risk of zika transmission there.

Humans who catch zika from a mosquito bite can transmit the virus to other people through sexual intercourse and other sexual activity. Pregnant women who have zika can also pass the infection to unborn children.

Infected people usually experience no symptoms or mild symptoms like fever, rash or a headache. Joint pain, muscle aches and red eyes can also be present.

Although zika frequently does not pose a serious risk for most patients, it’s another story when a mother passes zika to an unborn baby. That can cause microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with abnormally small heads. Microcephaly can be linked to learning disabilities, seizures and other health problems including those affecting vision and hearing.

The CDC has also collected information indicative of a link between zika and a rare disease of the nervous system called Guillain-Barré syndrome. A small percentage of zika patients also experience that disease, which commonly results in weakness to the arms and legs and, infrequently, effects on the muscles that make it possible to breathe.

ADVICE FOR LONG BEACHERS

It’s well-known that mosquitos breed in standing water, but Long Beach and Los Angeles County public health officials want residents to know that zika-carrying mosquitos only need a small amount of water to lay their eggs.

“These are really, really hardy mosquitos. They require very little water to breed,” said Stella Fogleman, director of emergency preparedness and response for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

“Their eggs can lie dormant for a year, like a sea monkey.”

One #ZikaFreeLB post advises that a bottle cap’s full of water is sufficient to give birth to new mosquitos of the species that carry zika. Long Beach officials recommend any containers, like a bird bath, that holds standing water be dumped, drained and scrubbed on a weekly basis.

Other advice:

• Any pregnant women who experience zika-like symptoms within two weeks of visiting an area where zika is present should tell their doctor when and where they went.

• Anyone who contracts zika should avoid mosquitos to reduce the risk of further mosquito-borne transmission.

• Men who travel areas where zika is a health risk should avoid sex or always use condoms if their partner is pregnant.

• Anyone who sees a mosquito matching the descriptions of a. aegypti or a. albopictus should call the city’s hotline: 562-570-7907.

• In areas of Los Angeles County near Long Beach, people who spot mosquitos that can carry zika may contact Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District at 562-944-9656.

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