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Zika: Is Georgia at Risk?

IMMIGRATION OF A DIFFERENT VARIETY

During the past year--and certainly in terms of the presidential campaign--any discussion of immigration has focused on people crossing the southern border from Mexico and Latin America into the U.S. But perhaps attention should shift from people crossing the border to Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that carries the Zika virus, crossing it. In a study published in PLOS Current Outbreaks, March 2016, and published on wh.gov/Zika, a map of the U.S. shows the seasonal climatic suitability for Aedes aegypti; another words, the map shows where the mosquito that carries the Zika virus could survive in upcoming summer months in the U.S. Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia, are two of the cities in the U.S. where the mosquito could survive, thrive, and spread the Zika virus.

Latin America is the epicenter of the Zika epidemic, with 1.3 million infections reported in 2015 alone. U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands already have Zika infestations. Right now, Zika is an imported problem in the U.S., meaning that all of the 500 or so documented cases have come from people being infected elsewhere and traveling back to the U.S. Florida remains ground zero for imported Zika cases, with 95 reported so far. New York is close behind, with 89 reported cases. But with temperatures in the U.S. rising in the summer months and Zika infestations in the nearby Caribbean, it takes little to assume that an imported problem can become an indigenous one.

A HEALTH EMERGENCY

That was the message during the Whitehouse briefing on May 9, 2016, in which the map of the likely areas where the Aedes aegypti could survive in the U.S. was displayed. It was also the message underlying three funding proposals before the Senate on May 17, 2016. The funding plan that ultimately passed was aided by the staunch support of Georgia's Senator John Isakson. Isakson, who had spent time with experts at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, argued that stopping and containing the spread of the Zika virus in the U.S. is a health emergency. The $1.2 billion funding measure that passed the Senate will face resistance in the House, however, which proposed a $622 million funding package.

THE COCKROACH OF MOSQUITOES

Mosquito control is typically a state and local activity. Therefore, the effectiveness of particular programs can vary greatly depending on the resources available in a given area. Areas with better funding have more staff, more educational outreach, and more pest control options. The funding sought in Congress is to address the shortfalls in the programs with fewer resources.

Bolstering local mosquito control programs to increase their effectiveness is crucial. The Aedes aegypti is known as the cockroach of mosquitoes; it can live and breed indoors, making places with no air conditioning, broken or absent screens, and any standing water perfect new homes for the Zika carrier. To further complicate matters, Aedes aegypti have become resistant to some pesticides, including permethrin, which was being used in Puerto Rico until recently. Many pesticides are ineffective against this cockroach of mosquitoes, and control programs need to test for resistance but often lack the resources to do so.

The additional funding is also being sought to address the inevitable increase in travelers bringing the Zika virus to the U.S. this summer from the Olympic Games in Brazil. Brazil is at the heart of the Zika epidemic in Latin America, and athletes and tourists traveling to and from Rio will carry the virus with them. Containing the virus and avoiding its transmission to pregnant women is key: Brazil already has 1,168 confirmed cases of microcephaly, a birth defect resulting from the Zika infection in pregnant women.

WHAT TO DO

Avoid travel to areas with an active Zika infestation. If travel cannot be avoided, use EPA-approved repellent over sunscreen, wear long sleeves and pants and stay in and sleep in air conditioning as much as possible. Eliminate any standing water, even in flowers and plants. Aedes aegypti can breed in as little as a cap full of water. Fix any broken screens and install screens where needed. Discuss pregnancy plans with your doctor if you have been or think you may have been exposed to the Zika virus.

If you would like more information on the fight against Zika, go to wh.gov/Zika, or www.cdc.gov-Zika.

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