A few short weeks ago, the word Zika meant very little to all of us. Now, we understand the Zika virus is a serious mosquito spread illness possibly connected to a birth defect, microcephaly. The Zika virus, named in 1947 after the African forest it was first isolated in, has spread to the Americas, making international headlines. The recent Zika outbreak in Brazil has led to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issuance of travel guidelines to affected countries, including a warning for pregnant women to consider postponing travel. As the weather heats up in the next few weeks, the battle against the further spread of the Zika virus is on the rise, and it’s started already.
The City of Dallas will begin mosquito education earlier this year, beginning on March 1. Advertisements will remind people to drain standing water, avoid outdoor activity at dawn and dusk, utilize mosquito repellent and dress in long sleeves and pants. If the city is ramping up education early, they probably also have plans for more intense and frequent insecticide spraying in the area.
The Zika virus is currently spread through two species of the Aedes genus of mosquitoes. There are more than 3,500 species of mosquitoes in the world and about 175 in the U.S. Aedes aegypti is one species found in Texas that can carry the virus. Only female mosquitos feed on the blood of animals to gain nutrients to lay their eggs. The virus is spread by a mosquito biting an infected individual and carrying it to another. The symptoms of the virus are fever, rash, joint pain or conjunctivitis (red eyes), and recovery takes a few days to a week — yet most people (four out of five) who are infected with the virus don’t feel the symptoms. Once the virus is clear from your system, it’s gone, unlike some other viruses. Individuals can unknowingly be carrying the virus and spread the infection to surrounding mosquitoes. People can be bitten by a mosquito in another country and import the virus to the U.S., which has resulted in recent cases present in Dallas County. A global approach to virus prevention must be sought after to reduce the risk of transmission locally.
What do we do to stop the spread of the virus?
Spray insecticide. As host of the upcoming Summer Olympics, Brazil is quickly putting all efforts into reducing the mosquito population and slowing the spread of disease through heavy insecticide spraying. The CDC has recently joined officials in South America to assist with disease control.
Insecticide is putting a quick band-aid on the problem. Insecticides cause environmental pollution, which ultimately contributes to the reason we have more widespread diseases in the world. Putting more pollution into the environment for a quick fix may be our only option now, but it’s not helping us long-term.
Creative solutions. A company is investing in research to introduce sterilized genetically altered mosquitoes into the population to slowly diminish the numbers of mosquitoes. Although this is a creative solution, the environmental impacts of inserting a genetically modified mosquito into the population is a risk we can only speculate about until it happens. The risk may outweigh the benefit.
Wipe out the mosquito. Although this seems like an easy answer, as we can’t visually see the job of mosquitoes, their role is vital. Pesky mosquitoes are plant pollinators and a food source for fish (mosquito larva), birds, amphibians and bats. One little brown bat is estimated to eat 1,000 mosquitoes in one hour. That’s a lot of mass! Without this major food source, ecological systems would change. But bats are facing another disease that’s about to hit Texas very soon, white-nose syndrome. A fungus that originated in Europe and reached the east coast in 2006 is quickly making its way across the U.S., decimating bat populations along the way.
Which brings us back to the main problem. The problem is Zika now, it was Ebola a few months ago, and there will be another emerging disease making the headlines soon. It’s time to start tackling problems from their source and think long-term ecological health that will solve our current problems.
As seen in the Katy Trail Weekly.