Health & Fitness

Zika in Idaho? What you need to know

Three ways to protect yourself from the Zika virus

Zika outbreaks are currently happening in many countries and territories. The mosquitoes that can become infected with and spread Zika live in many parts of the world, including parts of the United States. Learn how you can protect yourself from Z
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Zika outbreaks are currently happening in many countries and territories. The mosquitoes that can become infected with and spread Zika live in many parts of the world, including parts of the United States. Learn how you can protect yourself from Z

What is Zika? How does it spread?

Zika is a virus primarily spread by the aedes genus of mosquito, which usually bites during the day. A mosquito that bites a person can acquire the virus and pass it on to the next person it bites.

The virus also can spread through sexual contact, from a pregnant woman to her fetus or potentially via blood transfusion.

Are aedes mosquitoes in Idaho?

Not the species that carry Zika, said Sam Holt, program and education specialist for Ada County’s Weed, Pest and Mosquito Abatement Department.

The species that carry Zika are the aedes aegypti and aedes albopictus, Holt said. They can’t live in Idaho because neither they nor their eggs can survive the state’s cold winters. Idaho is home to the aedes vexans mosquito, which does not carry Zika.

Could the Zika mosquitoes ever come here?

Unlikely, unless global warming really gets going. The aegypti and albopictus, which also carry other nasty viruses like dengue and chikungunya fever, mostly live in southern states and nations.

“Idaho would need to develop a tropical climate so the aedes (aegypti or albopictus) mosquito could survive,” Christine Myron, spokeswoman for Central District Health Department in Boise, said in an email.

Occasionally, isolated reports of these species pop up in places like Portland, Holt said. Their eggs might arrive on a plant imported from a southern state or on a vehicle that was traveling down south. A Zika-carrying adult mosquito might get trapped in the luggage or car of someone who’s been down south, and then bite and infect someone here. But a full-scale outbreak is unlikely, Holt said, because the bugs can’t establish a population.

“Through isolated incidences, they can just spawn and start breeding through these summer months, Holt said. “But then, instantly, within our first freeze, they die out. They're not able to over-winter the harsh conditions that we have here. It gets way too cold for them.”

Holt said he knows of no confirmed cases in which mosquitoes hatched already infected with Zika.

What are the authorities doing to make sure there’s no Zika here?

Ada County Weed, Pest and Mosquito Abatement has begun setting traps for day-flying mosquitoes such as the aedes aegypti and albopictus, Holt said. The department has long trapped night-fliers such as the Culex genus mosquito that carries West Nile.

The department is focusing its day-trapping efforts on nurseries around town that might be importing plants from southern states, Holt said.

Are local hospitals prepared for a Zika outbreak?

Saint Alphonsus and St. Luke’s hospitals are closely monitoring Zika, working with public health officials and getting updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

They also screen patients for possible exposure, test at-risk patients for infection and place an emphasis on testing pregnant women who have traveled to places affected by Zika.

With two recent cases of people infected with Zika in Texas and Utah, St. Luke’s Women’s nurse manager Kadie Randel thinks Zika may show up in a patient in Idaho “sooner than later.”

St. Luke’s obstetricians are recommending that patients cancel travel plans to areas where they could be exposed to Zika, said Randel, who has put together St. Luke’s protocol materials for Zika screening.

Many people in Idaho travel to and from Mexico and Central America and thus may be exposed to Zika, she noted.

There have been few patients who needed testing for Zika after an initial screening. The tests are free for patients and are processed by the CDC in Colorado, Randel said.

How bad is Zika?

Mostly, Zika symptoms are milder than those caused by West Nile Virus and other mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue and chikungunya, and they typically only last three to four days, said Sarah Correll, an epidemiologist for Central District Health.

The biggest risk is to babies. Zika can cause severe brain defects in a fetus through a condition known as microcephaly, which results in a baby being born with an unusually small head and a brain that is not fully developed, along with vision, hearing and growth problems.

“If you're pregnant, don't travel. Do not go to a tropical climate. Don't go anywhere where these mosquitoes live,” Correll said. “But for everyone else, (Zika is) a disease that they likely will not even notice that they have it, or if they do, it'll be mild and it will go away. They don't need to get tested. But for pregnant women, (testing is) important to protect the baby.”

CDC research also points to a strong link between Zika and a disease called Guillain-Barré syndrome, which causes the body’s immune system to attack part of the peripheral nervous system, causing weakness and tingling sensations that, in rare cases, escalates into total paralysis and even death.

Who is most at risk?

Pregnant women: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has concluded that contracting the Zika virus during pregnancy can lead to babies being born with micocephaly, a birth defect where a baby’s head is smaller than expected and where the brain may not have developed properly. Babies also can have problems with seizures, feeding problems, and issues with movement and balance.

As of July 28, 2016, 479 pregnant women in the United States, including the District of Columbia, had lab evidence of the Zika virus. Another 493 women in U.S. territories, such as Puerto Rico, had tested positive for the Zika virus.

How many people have been affected nationwide?

There were 1,825 reported Zika cases in the U.S. with 5,548 infections in U.S. territories as of Aug. 3, 2016. One Idaho case has been reported: A North Idaho woman (over age 60) who traveled through Mexico contracted the disease, state health officials said Aug. 3. She did not need to be hospitalized.

How can I avoid passing Zika to my baby?

Pregnant women shouldn’t travel to places where Zika is more common, Correll said. That means anywhere in the tropics or southern United States where the aedes aegypti and albopictus live. Also, women should avoid becoming pregnant for two months after being in those places.

To be safe, men who’ve traveled to those places shouldn’t get women pregnant for six months after returning, Correll said, because that’s how long Zika can last in their semen.

The Zika virus can be transmitted through sex, including vaginal, anal, oral sex and the sharing of sex toys.

What are the symptoms of Zika?

Many people who are infected with Zika won’t have symptoms or will have mild symptoms, including fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis, muscle pain and headaches. Symptoms can last for several days up to a week.

People usually don’t get sick enough to go the hospital.

How can I get tested for Zika?

People who want to be tested for Zika should call their doctors or other healthcare providers. Myron said she didn’t know of any institutions offering free tests, largely because Idaho simply isn’t a high-risk zone.

Pregnant women should get tested immediately.

What about all the anti-mosquito products? Do they work?

The Zika-carrying aedes aegypti and albopictus are suburban invaders that can breed in as little as a bottlecap of water and require house-to-house combat.

Confused about which anti-mosquito products work best, from repellents to clothing to sprinkler systems, to misters? Read here on what mosquito products work and which ones don’t.

What do I need to know about the aedes aegypti and albopictus mosquitoes?

Their life cycle is about 8-10 days long, and females are the biters. The mosquito loves clean, standing water and will fly only a few hundred feet in its life.

aedes aegypti females are attracted to human odor and sweat.

How long has Zika been around?

It was first identified in Uganda in 1947.

Since May 2015, Brazil has experienced a significant outbreak of Zika cases. Brazilian officials reported an increases in the number of babies born with microcephaly.

The CDC notes previous that outbreaks may have gone unreported because symptoms can mirror those of other diseases.

What can I do to protect myself and my family?

Take it from the CDC: “The best way to prevent Zika is to prevent mosquito bites.”

The best way to prevent mosquitoes from hatching on your property is to avoid any stagnant water, Holt said. That includes buckets, bird feeders, saucers under planters and even spongy lawns, because mosquito larvae can hatch under the blades of grass.

Pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding should use insect repellent with DEET and Picaridin.

Here are 15 ways to protect yourself from the Zika virus.

Can pesticides cause microcephaly?

Read what the CDC has to say on this: “Recent media reports have suggested that a pesticide called pyriproxyfen might be linked with microcephaly. pyriproxyfen has been approved for the control of disease-carrying mosquitoes by the World Health Organization. pyriproxyfen is a registered pesticide in Brazil and other countries, it has been used for decades, and it has not been linked with microcephaly. In addition, exposure to pyriproxyfen would not explain recent study results showing the presence of Zika virus in the brains of babies born with microcephaly.’’

Should I panic?

No, just drain and cover any standing water on your property and wear bug spray.

If you have a mosquito issue or know of a place where stagnant water is present, whether it’s on your property, in your neighborhood, in a city park or anywhere, call the Weed, Pest and Mosquito Abatement Department at (208) 577 4646.

Find more information here.

The Miami Herald contributed to this report.

What about West Nile?

West Nile Virus first showed up in Idaho in the early 2000s. The disease peaked here in 2006, but confirmed cases have fallen sharply since then.

The virus is transmitted by the Culex genus mosquito, which mostly bites at night and can travel two miles in a lifetime — a long way by mosquito standards, said Sam Holt, program and education specialist for Ada County's Weed, Pest and Mosquito Abatement Department.

The abatement department applies a variety of techniques to keep mosquito populations down, partly due to concerns about West Nile. Those techniques include using chemicals in powder form or coin-shaped discs to kill mosquito larvae in standing water or wet areas; floating a type of oil on the surface of standing water to suffocate the larvae; and spraying a chemical mist that hovers above the ground and kills adult mosquitoes that come in contact with it.

Here's how many West Nile Virus cases the state of Idaho has confirmed, by year:

2003 3

2004 4

2005 13

2006 1,016

2007 134

2008 36

2009 39

2010 3

2011 3

2012 17

2013 40

2014 19

2015 13

2016 1

Sources: Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, Central District Health Department