Coast a potential habitat for mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus

Mississippi State Epidemiolgist Thomas Dobbs
Mississippi State Epidemiolgist Thomas Dobbs

With a few exceptions, Mississippians have little to worry about regarding the Zika virus, the state epidemiologist said Tuesday.

However, the Coast region of the state would be a suitable habitat for the spread of the mosquito that carries Zika, leaving officials determined to prevent an outbreak of the virus.

The State Epidemiologist Thomas Dobbs on Tuesday provided his expertise on the threat of the virus to state and county officials at the Mississippi Preparedness Summit at the IP Casino.

"Travelers, those are who we'll find the virus in," Dobbs said.

Three Zika cases have been reported in the state. All three infected had been on a mission trip to Haiti.

To date, scientists haven't found in Mississippi the particular kind of mosquitoes that carry the virus, or any local transmission of the virus.

And it's not for lack of trying. Mosquito patrol teams capture batches of mosquitoes to check to see they are the same species specific kind that spreads the virus, which is also the same kind that carries the West Nile and dengue viruses.

"We've been checking. We haven't found any," Dobbs said, though scientists in Texas, Louisiana and Florida have found batches of the moquitos.

There's a possibility that could change. The Coast would be an ideal habitat for the mosquito that carries the virus, Dobbs said.

The Centers for Disease Control include Mississippi, along with much of the Southeast, in their estimated range of the mosquitoes.

The reach of the virus to the Virgin Islands, Haiti and Puerto Rico has raised eyebrows among U.S. scientists.

Still, concerns don't approach the fear elsewhere, such as in Brazil, where the virus has become a pandemic. An article in the New England Journal of Medicine recommends the delay or cancellation of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, slated to begin Aug. 5 of this year.

Those most at risk are travelers to countries where the mosquito presence and virus is most pronounced such as Brazil, northern South American and Carribean Island countries.

There is currently no cure for Zika. Symptoms of the virus include a rash, fever and muscle aches. The virus is most dangerous to pregnant women because it can lead to serious deformities in an unborn child.

Dobbs said Mississippians might want to re-think mission trips to countries such as Brazil, Haiti, the Virgin Island and Puerto Rico. He said the Mississippi State Department of Health is working on releasing information and tips to educate the public.

An official with Harrison County Mosquito Control said the agency has a team out every week testing mosquitoes. They also continue to spray for the more common species of mosquito, not nearly as dangerous, just annoying.

"Most familiar in our state and this region are what I call the day-biters, a very aggressive kind of mosquito. One we're all familiar with," Dobbs said.