GULFPORT -- The Zika virus is nothing to be alarmed about, but it is something people should be aware of, Christy Thornton with the Mississippi State Department of Health said at Friday's Economic Vibe.
The program at the Knight Nonprofit Center in Gulfport was sponsored by the Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce to raise awareness of the virus at a time when students and families are traveling to infected areas on spring break.
The virus is spread primarily through the bite of an infected species of mosquito. Concerned with the outbreak and its consequences to pregnant women, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued an alert for travelers to South America, Central America and the Caribbean and for people living in areas with current outbreaks.
As of Wednesday, the CDC had reported 258 cases of travel-associated infections in the United States. Of those, 18 are in pregnant women and six cases were sexually transmitted.
All of these cases originated with people who traveled to an area with Zika, Thornton said. "Currently, Mississippi has no cases," she said. But with the virus in neighboring states, she said, it's a given the virus will reach Mississippi.
About 80 percent of those bitten by infected mosquitoes have no symptoms. Others may experience fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes for a few days to a week.
But a pregnant woman can pass the virus to her fetus. Brazil has seen a spike in the virus in the past year, and in the number of babies born with microcephaly, or small heads.
"There's a lot we don't know about it," Thornton said. Several of the pregnant women with the virus in the U.S. had miscarriages, she said, and others terminated their pregnancies.
The CDC learned the virus can be sexually transmitted by infected men for an unknown amount of time and she said, "That's a real concern for women, particularly who are thinking of become pregnant."
Raymond Cuevas with Harrison County Mosquito Control said only one type of mosquito spreads the virus and that mosquito hasn't been seen in Mississippi for 20 years.
"We provide mosquito control for the whole county," he said. This includes spraying and trapping mosquitoes.
Mosquitoes don't fly far, he said, so when people see mosquitoes in their yard, "you or your neighbor's going to be breeding them."
People need to take precautions, he said, such as wearing long sleeves outside, spraying with a repellent that contains DEET, emptying bird baths at least weekly and checking gutters and other convex surfaces for standing water.
"Just a little bottle cap of water breeds mosquitoes," he said.