Oklahoma health officials continue to broaden efforts to work with health care providers to identify potential travel-related cases, conduct testing in the state public health laboratory, and expand mosquito surveillance programs to determine presence and burden of the type of mosquito that is most likely to spread Zika virus.
Presently, the Zika virus is not being spread by mosquitoes in the US, but is spreading aggressively in regions of South and Central America and the Caribbean. As more travelers acquire Zika virus abroad and summer approaches, there is a potential for localized transmission to occur in the southern US, especially in states where the Aedes aegypti mosquito is plentiful. Collections of this type of mosquito in Oklahoma are not commonly recorded.
The most significant health risk of Zika virus infection is among pregnant women and their unborn babies. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently established that infection with Zika virus during pregnancy can result in fetal loss or severe birth defects involving the brain.
Measures implemented by the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) to identify potential travel-related Zika virus cases among Oklahoma residents include a screening tool for maternity clinics and protocols for health care providers to assess information on patients to determine if Zika virus testing is indicated. OSDH Acute Disease Service epidemiologists are available 24/7 to consult with health care providers statewide to determine if their patients meet the criteria for testing and arrange for testing to be conducted.
OSDH has received confirmation of four travel-related cases affecting Oklahoma residents through test results provided by the CDC Arbovirus Laboratory in Ft. Collins, CO. One of the Oklahoma cases is a pregnant woman. The OSDH Public Health Laboratory has completed proficiency testing for Zika virus and has begun testing of specimens from Oklahoma patients to alleviate the delay in receiving results from the CDC.
Zika virus is transmitted to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito. It can also be spread through sexual contact with males who have the virus or from mother to unborn child. The disease can cause fever, rash, muscle and joint aches and red eyes. These symptoms typically last several days to a week, and hospitalizations are rare. Most people exposed to Zika virus won’t develop any symptoms at all.
“We are strongly recommending that pregnant women and spouses or sexual partners of women who are pregnant or might be pregnant, avoid traveling to areas where Zika virus has been identified if at all possible,” said Oklahoma State Epidemiologist Dr. Kristy Bradley. If travel cannot be avoided, persons in these high risk groups should rigorously practice mosquito bite precautions and notify their health care provider if any symptoms of illness occur within 2 weeks of travel.
OSDH has also enlisted the help of the Oklahoma State University Department of Entomology to conduct surveillance in five urban regions across the state for the presence of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. The Oklahoma City-County and Tulsa Health Departments also have plans to expand their mosquito surveillance to monitor for the presence of this Zika virus vector in addition to trapping and testing of Culex mosquitoes, which spread West Nile virus.
The CDC and OSDH advise pregnant women to delay travel to foreign countries and U.S. territories where Zika virus is being transmitted. To prevent the spread of the disease, people traveling to those areas should carefully follow steps to avoid mosquito bites while there and for seven days after returning home.
Mosquito exposure prevention tips while traveling to affected areas include:
- Use air conditioning or window/door screens to keep mosquitoes outside. If you are not able to protect yourself from mosquitoes inside your hotel or sleeping place, sleep under a mosquito bed net.
- Use mosquito repellents according to instructions.
- If weather permits, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Treat clothing and gear with permethrin or purchase permethrin-treated items.
- Help reduce the number of mosquitoes outside your residence, hotel room or workplace by emptying standing water from containers, such as flowerpots or buckets.