Dr. Wood: Why you can’t blame mosquitoes for Zika virus cases in Washington state

The mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus don’t live in Washington state. While there have been cases of Zika virus infection in the state, the cases have all been travel-related. So far, mosquitoes carrying Zika virus have only been detected in a few places in the United States, such as Brownsville, Texas; Hidalgo County, Texas; and Miami and Dade County, Florida.

That means that people living in Washington state can only become infected if they travel to areas where Zika infection is actively being transmitted or if they have unprotected sex with a Zika-infected person.

While most people who get Zika infection may have few or even no symptoms, there are some specific dangers for pregnant women. In particular, pregnant women can pass the virus to their unborn babies in the womb, and the babies may develop microcephaly, a birth defect in which a baby’s head and brain are smaller than they should be.

There is no known treatment yet for Zika virus infection, and there is not yet a vaccine to prevent Zika infection. But there are easy ways to stay safe.

The use of condoms can help prevent infection through sex.

If you plan to travel to a place where mosquitoes may carry Zika, be sure to use insect repellent, and follow the instructions on the container. Wear long sleeves and pants; use mosquito netting around beds, cribs, and strollers; and take steps to keep mosquitoes out of your home.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer lots more tips on mosquito prevention and maintain an up-to-date map showing areas where Zika virus is being spread.

The greatest risk from Zika virus is to unborn children. Pregnant women should not travel to areas with risk of Zika, and those trying to get pregnant should seriously consider restricting travel to those same areas.

Mosquito bites are always a nuisance, but by better understanding your risks, you can better protect yourself and your family.

Reach Dr. Rachel C. Wood, health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties, at 360-867-2501, woodr@co.thurston.wa.us, or @ThurstonHealth on Twitter.

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