JACKSON, Miss. – Today the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) reports its first cases of mosquito-borne illness of the year. The two travel-related cases of Zika virus are residents of Warren County who traveled to an area north of Venezuela. There were 23 Mississippi travel-related Zika cases in 2016.
“It is important to remember that there are several types of mosquito-borne diseases, so it’s essential to always take precautions, protect yourself, and avoid mosquito exposure whenever possible at home or when traveling,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers.
Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that can cause devastating birth defects if contracted during pregnancy. Zika virus infection can cause a mild illness with symptoms (fever, joint pain, conjunctivitis and rash) lasting for several days to a week, but 80 percent of those infected show no symptoms at all. Death is very rare.
Zika has been seen in parts of Africa, Southeast Asia, and some Pacific islands for years, but a recent Zika outbreak has been going on in approximately 50 countries – mostly in the Caribbean, Central and South America. The Zika virus is spread through the bite of an infected mosquito. The breed of mosquito that is spreading Zika – Aedes aegypti – has not been detected in Mississippi since the early 1990s. The MSDH is currently conducting surveillance on all mosquito populations in the state.
Zika can also be spread through sexual transmission, even if symptoms are not present. Persons returning from Zika-affected areas and their sexual partners should take steps to prevent sexual transmission. Pregnant women or women who may become pregnant in the near future should avoid travel to countries with Zika transmission. Pregnant women should avoid sexual contact – or only have protected sex using a condom – with any male who has recently returned from a country with Zika virus. These precautions should continue for the duration of the pregnancy.
“With spring and summer approaching, mission trips and vacations to these areas will be popular. Please be especially mindful of protecting yourself from mosquitoes while you’re abroad. Simple steps can make a big difference,” Byers added.
The MSDH advises that precautions should be taken by travelers to all areas known to have active Zika transmission. Precautions for travelers include basic protective measures against mosquito-borne illnesses such as using a recommended mosquito repellent that contains DEET while you are outdoors, avoiding areas where mosquitoes are prevalent, and wearing loose, light-colored clothing to cover the arms and legs when outdoors during the day or night. Travelers recently returning from countries with ongoing Zika transmission should take special precautions to avoid mosquito bites in Mississippi to avoid transmitting the virus to local mosquitoes. Precautions should continue for three weeks. Cleaning up standing water around the home is an important activity to prevent Zika and other mosquito-borne viruses.
There are no available treatments or vaccines for Zika virus.
The MSDH Public Health Laboratory now has the ability to test for Zika and in-house to allow for rapid turnaround and high volume testing should the need arise.
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