Eliminating breeding areas for disease-carrying mosquitoes now can prevent illness this summer
With the recent spring rains and warmer weather right around the corner, the Fairfax County Health Department is encouraging residents to “tip and toss” any water-holding containers and take other steps to prevent and protect against mosquitoes that can carry diseases, including the Zika virus.
Zika is primarily transmitted to people by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito, though less frequently, transmission may also occur between men and their sexual partners, from a pregnant woman to her fetus and possibly through blood transfusion.
In February, the World Health Organization declared Zika virus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern due to outbreaks occurring throughout Central and South America, Mexico, the Caribbean and parts of the Pacific. Although the virus produces symptoms in only one in five people, it is linked to severe birth defects in babies whose mothers were infected with Zika during pregnancy.
So far all 544 confirmed cases in the United States, including 15 in Virginia, have been associated with international travel. There are currently no confirmed mosquito-tohuman transmissions in the continental U.S. However, now that mosquito season is here, there is concern that local mosquitoes could potentially spread the virus.
“Zika can be scary because there is still so much to be learned about this emerging disease threat,” says Fairfax County Director of Health Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu. “But it’s important to remember that there are actions we can all take to protect ourselves, our families and our community from the spread of Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases.”
A possible vector of the virus, Aedes albopictus, is widespread in Northern Virginia. This mosquito is an aggressive daytime biter that will also bite from dusk to dawn. Since this container-breeding mosquito doesn’t fly far from where it lays its eggs, the most effective way to prevent the spread of Zika through mosquitoes is by eliminating breeding sites in our own backyards.
Because these mosquitoes breed in artificial containers rather than storm ponds, ditches or marshlands, it is critical that residents survey their properties weekly and tip and toss artificial containers that can hold standing water, no matter how small. A teaspoon of water in a bottle cap can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Containers that people wish to keep (e.g, wheelbarrows, children’s wading pools, 5-gallon buckets) can be turned over or stored indoors when not in use. The department also suggests using pesticide to kill mosquito larvae in water that cannot be removed. These products can be found at local hardware stores and garden centers.
As part of its Zika response plan, the Health Department will be: aggressively monitoring for Zika within the Aedes species of mosquitoes through trapping and testing; coordinating with healthcare providers to conduct human surveillance, testing and case management; providing free Zika protection kits to pregnant women; conducting targeted outreach and mosquito control efforts wherever local transmission of the virus is confirmed; and launching a broad public awareness campaign to highlight actions residents can take to minimize the spread of all mosquito-borne illnesses.
“As we have done in the past when faced with an emerging mosquito-borne disease and a high possibility of human transmission, the use of pesticides, such as a barrier spray of permethrin, would be part of an integrated approach to mosquito control that would include other source reduction activities,” AddoAyensu says.
“Controlling Zika is everyone’s responsibility. Do your part from the start to prevent and protect against mosquitoes by eliminating standing water around your home, using insect repellent and wearing long, loose and light-colored clothing.”
Here are some additional tips to avoid mosquito bites and prevent mosquito-borne diseases:
Empty or remove water-holding containers, such as buckets, unused flower pots, cans and discarded tires; turn over plastic wading pools and wheel barrows when not in use; keep drains, ditches and culverts clean of trash and weeds; and clean gutters to ensure they drain properly;
Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, socks and shoes when outdoors;
Use EPA-registered insect repellants and apply according to the label instructions;
Wear light-colored clothing and gear treated with permethrin, an insecticide (do not apply permethrin directly to skin);
Install or repair screens on windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out of your home;
Even if you do not feel sick, travelers returning to Fairfax County from an area with Zika should take steps to prevent mosquito bites for three weeks so they do not spread Zika to local mosquitoes; and
If you’re pregnant and have sex, use condoms or during your pregnancy.
To learn more about mosquito protection and prevention, visit www.fairfaxcounty.gov/hd or www.cdc.gov/zika.