Zika virus is probably the best-known mosquito-borne illness due to the media attention during the 2015 and 2016 outbreak. It is spread by day feeding mosquitoes like the Aedes aegypti (yellow fever mosquito) and, most likely, the Aedes albopictus (Asian tiger mosquito). The name “Zika” comes from the Zika Forest in Uganda, where the virus was discovered in 1947. The National Center for Atmospheric Research has identified DC and the surrounding areas of Northern Virginia and Suburban Maryland as having a moderate risk for a Zika outbreak. For this reason, we strive to help reduce mosquito populations in our area.
Zika virus is transmitted by the bite of an infected female mosquito. Aedes aegypti has been the primary vector for most of the Zika transmission since the outbreak began in 2015. Lab experiments have shown that Aedes albopictus has the potential to spread Zika, but it has not proven that this mosquito has contributed to the Zika spread. Both of these species are present in the greater DC.. In fact, Aedes albopictus is the primary nuisance (biting) mosquito in the greater DC area. Additionally there are other species of mosquitoes that may be capable of spreading Zika.
Zika virus has been extensively covered in the media because it can be passed from a pregnant woman to her in utero child and can cause severe birth defects such as microcephaly. Microcephaly is a neurological condition in which an infant’s head is smaller than others of the same age and sex. Usually, this results from the brain developing abnormally in the womb or not growing as it should after birth. During the Zika Virus epidemic in 2015/2016, it was revealed the Zika Virus could also be sexually transmitted. If a mosquito becomes infected with Zika virus from biting a viremic person (someone who has enough Zika virus in his blood to pass it on), it will take about 7 – 10 days for that mosquito to become a carrier and have the ability to pass the virus to other people. Most people diagnosed with Zika in the United States either picked it up abroad or contracted it sexually from someone who picked it up abroad. However, it is believed that several cases in Florida and Texas were transmitted locally via mosquito bites.
Signs and Symptoms
Most people who contract Zika either have no symptoms or mild symptoms. Some experience fever, rash, headache, joint or muscle pain, and redness of the eyes. Zika symptoms might last a few days to a week, and only rarely do people need hospital care.
Treatment and Vaccines
There is currently no vaccine available for the Zika. Zika virus is diagnosed through blood work. Since the symptoms are usually mild, treatment involves rest and hydration. The best way to protect yourself from acquiring the Zika virus is to stay away from areas where there is an active Zika outbreak and to prevent mosquito bites in general. During mosquito season (typically April through early November in the DC area), you should wear light-colored and loose fitting long-sleeved shirts and pants and use insect repellant when outside. It is also wise to learn how to eliminate mosquito breeding sites on your property and invest in an all-natural mosquito program from a company such as Mosquito Musketeers.
Mosquitoes that transmit Zika
The two main mosquitoes of concern in regards to Zika transmissions are the Aedes aegytpi and the Aedes albopictus.
Aedes aegypti, the yellow fever mosquito, has a black body with a white violin or lyre shape design on its thorax. These mosquitoes do no usually fly far from their breeding grounds and usually take their blood meals in the early morning or late afternoon around dusk.
Aedes albopictus, better known as the Asian tiger mosquito, is black with white “tiger” stripes and on its legs head and thorax. It has been adapting to our cooler regions by diapausing (a period of suspending its development) in the winter.
Both Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus are floodwater mosquitoes, meaning that they lay their eggs in containers that will flood with water. When the rainwater reaches to where the eggs are, under the right circumstances such as time of year and temperature, the eggs will hatch. These mosquito species also practice skip oviposition, where they lay eggs in many different places. The eggs hatch into larvae and live in the water before emerging as an adult mosquito. Since they cannot survive without water, it is essential to “tip and toss” any standing water on your property during mosquito season.