Zika could spread to Miss.

Published 8:49 pm Saturday, May 7, 2016

As summer approaches, concerns about the Zika virus are climbing. Currently, no known cases of the Zika virus in the United States have been acquired locally, but Jerome Goddard, an entomologist with Mississippi State University, said it is possible for the disease to spread to certain mosquitoes in Mississippi.

“What’s worrisome is those people (with the virus) could sit out on the porch and have local mosquitoes bite them,” Goddard said.

Scientists have recently come to a consensus that Zika virus can cause birth defects. Zika can also be sexually transmitted. Goddard said it’s impossible to predict when or if Zika will spread to mosquitoes in the United States. If it does, Goddard said that socioeconomic factors could reduce the efficiency of the disease’s transmission.

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“If you live in houses with good screen windows and air conditioning like we do, there’s less chance of transmission,” Goddard said. “Poverty and lower socioeconomic conditions certainly contribute.”

However, Goddard said the Mississippi mosquito most likely to transmit the disease is the aedes albopictus, which will bite during the day.

“People have cookouts and ballgames, so I think it certainly could happen here,” he said.

Brookhaven budgets at least $100,000 each year on the chemical insecticide used to control the mosquito problem. Goddard said those efforts do help control mosquito populations, but they do not reach the breeding grounds of aedes albopictus.

“Those mosquitoes breed behind the patio and in the pots and pans — the mosquito spray just doesn’t work as well. I’m not saying there’s not a need for spraying, but the response for Zika would be different than the response for West Nile.”

Instead, Goddard said the Health Department may have to respond by going door to door, educating the public and getting rid of mosquitoes at the source.

Currently, there are no vaccines for Zika, and there are other dangerous diseases that mosquitoes can carry as well. Goddard said the most effective way to prevent disease is to avoid getting bitten in the first place.

“If I’m in an area with a lot of mosquitoes, the first thing I’d do is wear long sleeves and long pants, even if it’s hot,” Goddard said.

Repellents are also known to be effective. The Centers for Disease Control recommends using repellent containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or IR3535.