Iowa saw the the first human West Nile virus case in the state in 2002 and since then, 447 cases have been reported.

Iowa Image/National Atlas of the United States
Image/National Atlas of the United States

At a press conference today, Gov. Terry Branstad and the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) urged Iowans to remember to protect themselves against mosquito bites this summer, not because of a Zika virus threat, but because of the much more likely consequence of West Nile virus.

“The greatest risk to Iowans for Zika virus is when they travel to areas of the world where Zika transmission is ongoing – for example, the Caribbean, Mexico and South America,” said IDPH Deputy State Epidemiologist, Dr. Ann Garvey. “It is especially important for pregnant women with plans to travel to these areas to reconsider their plans or take protective action while there.” Zika causes microcephaly (abnormally small head) in babies. This is why pregnant women should reconsider travel to Zika-affected areas and since Zika can be sexually transmitted, women considering pregnancy should be aware if their partner has traveled to a Zika-affected area.

Since the mosquitoes known to transmit Zika (Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus) are not native to Iowa, the risk of transmission in this state is extremely low. Since surveillance began early this year, seven cases of Zika virus have been confirmed in Iowans. All cases involved travel to areas outside the U.S. where Zika transmission is occurring.

Culex tarsalis mosquito/CDC
Culex tarsalis mosquito/CDC

The increased talk about mosquitoes and the Zika virus does offer an opportunity to educate Iowans about West Nile virus and prevention. Mosquitoes that transmit West Nile virus and other diseases are established in Iowa.

To protect yourself against all mosquito bites and to prevent mosquito breeding:

  • Wear DEET-containing insect repellants
  • Wear long sleeves and long pants when possible when outdoors
  • Avoid being outside when mosquitoes bite – dusk and dawn
  • Patch up screens to protect your home from mosquitoes
  • Get rid of standing water to eliminate breeding grounds