The Arizona Department of Health Services and the Maricopa County Department of Public Health confirmed today the state’s first case of Zika virus in a Maricopa County resident. The older adult woman traveled outside of the United States to a Zika affected area before developing symptoms of illness.

Aedes aegypti/CDC
Aedes aegypti/CDC

“We have been expecting a travel associated case of Zika virus and we believe more infections are likely as people travel to and from areas where the disease is currently being transmitted,” said Cara Christ, MD, MS, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services. “While this is a first, the risk of this virus spreading throughout Arizona is very low. Arizona’s public health system has a plan in place and we are ready to rapidly respond.”

Zika virus is a type of flavivirus that is primarily transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito. A link has been identified between the virus and birth defects among infants of infected mothers.

“As soon as public health became aware of the suspect case, the individual was contacted to ensure she stayed indoors and avoided being bitten by mosquitoes to prevent further spread of the virus,” said Bob England, MD, MPH, director of MCDPH.

Most people infected with the Zika virus do not become ill, and those who do become ill have symptoms that may include fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis. Severe illness and hospitalization due to Zika virus is rare.

“We strongly recommend those who travel to Zika affected areas wear insect-repellant and take precautions to avoid mosquito bites for at least a week when they return, even if they have no signs of illness, not just to protect themselves but to protect their families and the community,” said Dr. England.

Maricopa County Department of Environmental Services, in collaboration with MCDPH, initiated their response plan to any suspect case of mosquito-borne disease that is not yet circulating in Maricopa County. This plan includes enhanced surveillance for mosquitoes and humans with appropriate vector control measures to ensure the disease does not spread locally.

“Our Vector Control technicians survey Maricopa County year-round and set traps to monitor and treat areas that have routinely been mosquito breeding sites to help minimize the risks of mosquito-borne diseases,” said Steven Goode, Maricopa County Environmental Services Department Director. “Our Vector Control Lab has also recently received the most current guidelines from CDC for conducting testing for the Zika and Dengue viruses; and we are in the process of acquiring all the materials needed to begin testing mosquitoes for Zika.”

Zika virus can be transmitted by several Aedes species mosquitoes, and Arizona is home to one of these – Aedes aegypti. Although the mosquito is found in many parts of the state, there is no evidence of Zika transmission within Arizona.

Arizona communities typically experience mosquito activity in the warmer months, with highest mosquito activity during monsoon season from June through September. The Arizona Department of Health Services is working with local and federal agencies to coordinate Zika preparedness and response plans.

Preventing mosquito bites, both at home and when traveling, is important to prevent disease spread.

“When you look for a mosquito repellant, look for DEET on the label,” said Dr. England. “At home, drain and remove containers of water, even small ones, which provide a good breeding ground for those mosquito eggs. It’s important to not only get rid of the water but also wipe the inside of the container to make sure the eggs aren’t stuck to the side, waiting for their next drink of water.”

Unlike other mosquitoes that come out at dawn and dusk, the Aedes aegypti mosquito can be out during all times of the day or night. “Fight the bite, day or night,” said Dr. Christ.