The mosquito-borne Zika virus has made headlines recently in Ohio, but Fulton County’s health commissioner said last week that, if it became necessary, precautions can assist in prevention.
Four cases of the disease have been confirmed in the state, one in the Cleveland area, and one each in Stark, Butler, and Licking counties. All of the cases involve individuals returning from travels in tropical countries such as Haiti and Guyana, where the Aedes aegypti, or yellow fever mosquito which carries the virus, resides.
And while “They could just as easily have been a resident of Fulton County,” Health Commissioner Kim Cupp said no cases have been reported locally. She said there have been no cases of indigenous mosquitoes or county residents carrying the Zika virus.
However, “We assume that that’s a possibility, and try to advise people to take precautions against mosquito bites,” she said.
The Zika virus was first discovered in the Western Hemisphere last year in Brazil. Since then, just over 50 cases have been reported in the continental United States, all of them related to travel to countries where the disease is common. One case caused concern when health officials initially thought the virus was transmitted through sexual relations.
Cupp said the Zika virus is rarely fatal, and those who contract it usually don’t become ill enough for hospital admission. “Some people are not going to develop the disease due to their natural immunities,” she said.
Mild symptoms last two to seven days, and don’t appear at all in 80 percent of those who have the virus. They include rash, joint and muscle pain, conjunctivitis, and headache. Cupp said people with immune-compromised systems may develop neurological symptoms.
One of the major concerns is that the Zika virus could be associated with pregnant women giving birth to children with microcephaly, an abnormally small head.
“I think it’s wise of people to take precautions against mosquito bites,” Cupp said. “If you were a pregnant woman or a woman planning to become pregnant….I would avoid travel to those areas. I would expect that we would see travel associated cases continuing.”
Still, mosquitoes in the U.S. have not shown to carry the Zika virus; a mosquito bite is presently considered the only way to transmit the disease. Cupp said Fulton County residents probably should be more concerned with West Nile virus, since mosquitoes in the United States are known to carry it.
“We need to understand a little bit more about the virus, but we can learn from the West Nile virus,” Cupp said. “We can use this as motivation to take precaution against mosquito bites.”
Dr. Mary DiOrio, medical director of the Ohio Department of Health, said the Zika virus seems to be garnering attention in the U.S. due to its possible link to microcephaly. “Our messaging really is focusing on women if they are pregnant,” she said.
Ohio health officials also share a concern that Aedes albopictus, more familiarly known as the Asian tiger mosquito, could also transmit the Zika virus. It’s a cousin of the mosquito which transmits the Zika virus, and has been found in the southern part of the state.
Dr. DiOrio said in order to carry the Zika virus, the Asian tiger mosquito would have to bite an infected person, then live long enough for the virus to multiply in its system. She said if an individual is diagnosed with the virus they are asked to take steps to avoid being bitten by another mosquito while experiencing the symptoms.
Dr. DiOrio said the ODH sees no need to order quarantine for those individuals. “We expect people to fully cooperate with that. When we educate people…they’re incredibly supportive about things they could do,” she said.
She added that all areas of the country are planning aggressively to ensure protocols are in place should the Zika virus gain momentum.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.