While Long Beach has yet to play host to an individual with Zika, officials are urging residents to take precautions when traveling outdoors as spring dissolves into summer.
“We’ve had no cases here but we are very seriously watching and monitoring the disease closely,” said the Long Beach Health Department’s Nelson Kerr.
The number of residents infected by the virus in Los Angeles County has grown to 13 as of May 20, four of them pregnant, according to the Los Angeles County Health Department. Yet, it’s important to note that virus was not contracted locally among anyone in the U.S. with the disease, said Kerr.
“Zika has been transmitted in other places before it came here,” said Kerr. “It could be imported, but it’s not here, in terms of it being endemic to the region.”
As of May 18, 2016, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) listed the number of travel-associated cases reported within the U.S. at 544, with 10 sexually transmitted. Of those infected with the virus, 157 women within U.S. states were pregnant.
Kerr said it was important to note the virus can only be spread sexually or through one specific species of mosquitoes: the Aedes (A. aegypti and A. albopictus). While this type of species appears sporadically in Long Beach, officials have been keeping a close watch and have not noted any recent appearances.
“We are out there every day looking for mosquitoes—we set traps every week,” said Kerr.
Another factor contributing to the rarity of the virus’ domestic transmission is the time period in which people are considered infectious.
“There is only a limited time period when people are infectious,” said Kerr, referring to that time period as the first week of contracting the virus. In order for a mosquito to transmit the virus, the Aedes species must feed on a person within that week-long window, become infected itself, and then bite another person.
However, the CDC notes that the virus is present in semen longer than the blood, implying that there is a higher risk of transmitting Zika through sexual transmission for a longer period of time than through the mosquito-borne contraction. While there is no time period of severe risk of transmission mentioned on the CDC website, they advise the use of condoms during sex if the partners have traveled or have been exposed in any way to the virus, as Zika could be present in the semen despite a negative blood testing or lack of symptoms.
Mothers can also transmit the disease to the fetus during a pregnancy—an element of the virus most alarming to public health officials, as it is a known cause of microcephaly (children with abnormally small heads as a result of abnormal brain development, causing seizures, developmental delays and more). The last route of transmission is through blood transfusion, with the only known cases of such occuring in Brazil.
Kerr underscored the fact that the disease is reportable, meaning physicians are required to notify the health department if they treat an individual with the virus.
“We are in close contact with the CDC and providers,” said Kerr. He urged residents to remain cautious and conduct themselves in a way that minimizes a risk of contracting the disease, no matter how unlikely.
Precautions to avoid contact with mosquitoes entirely have been outlined by the Health Department previously, and read as follows:
- Mosquitoes can breed in standing water. Eliminate standing water on your property by draining water in neglected ponds, birdbaths, fountains, buckets, old tires or anything that can hold water. Recycle water for outdoor use instead of using potable water.
- Use mosquito repellent containing DEET, Picaridin, or Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus. Residents should follow instructions on the label. Consult with your child’s pediatrician for appropriate concentrations of DEET to be used on children under the age of two years.
- Keep tight-fitting screens on doors and windows to prevent mosquitoes from entering homes and check to make sure your window screens are in good condition.
- Follow new restrictions and limit the watering of lawns and outdoor plants to Tuesdays and Saturdays, and avoid run off to gutters and around sprinklers.
Report dead birds and dead tree squirrels to the California Department of Health Services by calling 1.877.WNV.BIRD or online at www.westnile.ca.gov.
For further information, contact the City of Long Beach Health Department Vector Control Program at 562.570.4132 or at www.longbeach.gov/health/wnv_info.