Zika Risks in Lubbock? Mosquito Experts Weigh in as Non-Travel Florida Zika Case is Investigated

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Health officials in Miami-Dade County in Florida are investigating a case of non-travel related Zika virus which could be the first locally transmitted case in the United States. 

The Centers for Disease Control is assisting in the investigation. The Florida Health Department said the infected person had not traveled to any countries with ongoing Zika infections. 

While there have been over a thousand travel-related cases of Zika in the U.S., there have only been a few cases of the virus being sexually transmitted and no known cases of the virus being transmitted in the U.S. by mosquitoes here. 

Only one case of travel-related Zika has been reported in Lubbock, but officials are still on alert  as mosquito season marches on. 

Steve Presley, Ph.D., serves as Director of the Biological Threat Research Laboratory at Texas Tech’s Institute of Environmental and Human Health. As a researcher with over three decades of experience working with mosquitoes, he has been monitoring each development in the recent spread of the Zika virus. He shared his thoughts on this Florida Zika case with EverythingLubbock.com:

“It wouldn’t be surprising to me if there were local transmission occurring in Florida because it’s that time of year and there are so many infected people that local mosquitoes could pick it up from,” Presley said. 

What are the chances of local transmission occurring with mosquitoes on the South Plains? 

“Could Zika become locally transmitted here? Possibly, but for it to become locally transmitted you have to have huge mosquito populations of the particular species that can vector it, but we’re not seeing that right now,” said Presley. Presley’s lab helps the city of Lubbock trap and calculate the number of mosquitoes around town, he explained that mosquito numbers are substantially lower than they typically are at this time of year. Presley believes the low mosquito numbers are due to almost drought-like conditions on the South Plains.

“We will probably see an increase in those numbers as we get later into the late summer, that’s typically when we have the most West Nile virus transmission and a lot of other mosquito activity–when it starts cooling off in the evening and we start to get the fall rains or late summer rains,” Presley explained. 

Presley added that while there is only one reported case of Zika in Lubbock,  only a fraction of those who have Zika notice symptoms, so there could be many more with the virus who have not reported it. 

Lubbock’s Health Department is monitoring how Florida officials handle this Zika case as well. They’re also hoping that residents on the South Plains get checked out for the virus if they are at risk. 

“It’s also important for individuals who are traveling to areas where they have Zika that they follow guidelines to wear mosquito repellent and then if they come back to Lubbock and they’re sick,  they should contact their doctor so we can test them,” said Katherine Wells, the Director of Public Health for the City of Lubbock.

“Hopefully we won’t see any locally transmitted cases here of Zika, we have the mosquito [which carries Zika] so there is still a possibility,” Wells said. “But we would have to have lots of travelers and lots of mosquitoes and the Florida environment is much more conducive for that.”

According to the CDC there are over 1,300 cases of Zika in the United states and 346 cases of pregnant women with the virus. The CDC also reports that 9 live infants with birth defects have been born to U.S. women with Zika and 6 women with Zika have had pregnancy losses of infants with birth defects. 

“It was interesting to me and kind of alarming to see that high of a percentage of live births from Zika infected mothers [whose infants] suffered birth defects,” Presley said after looking over the CDC data. 

“It’s not just the immediate tragedy of a child born with birth defects but it’s the long term medical, economic, humane care for those individuals, that’s really the devastating part of it,” Presley added.

He is concerned that because the frenzy over the Zika virus has gone on for so long, people may become complacent about protecting themselves against mosquitoes. He reiterated that mosquito season–and the risks of mosquito-borne diseases– are far from over. 

“We may not have Zika [locally transmitted in Lubbock] yet, but we’re coming into West Nile virus season, St. Louis Encephalitis season,” Presley explained.

“This is another reminder that we need to make sure that we do as much as we can to reduce the mosquito population here in Lubbock,” Wells added. “Vector Control does their part but its also important that individuals dump standing water around their homes, reduce any mosquito habitat and if they’re out –especially during those dusk and dawn hours, or during the day– to make sure they wear mosquito repellent.”

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