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Officials Monitoring Spread of Zika Virus

WHEELING — Anxiety over mosquito-borne Zika virus shows major public health concerns can come in very small packages.

Although the local area is at low risk for mosquito-borne Zika infection, according to Howard Gamble, administrator of the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department, that doesn’t mean it requires any less vigilance on the part of local health officials, he said.

The virus spread very quickly across the southern portion of the Americas, Gamble said, noting Zika-carrying mosquitoes have been trapped as far north as southern Florida.

“There is a geographic barrier, but as far as (Zika) making it here, it can happen. … We’re mobile. We have a lot of people who travel south for the winter, and they’ll be back.”

Most people infected with Zika virus do not have any symptoms, and for those who do they usually are mild — fever, rash, joint pain or red eyes. However, Zika infections in pregnant women have been linked to severe birth defects.

In February, a Martins Ferry woman who makes frequent mission trips to Haiti became the first person in the Upper Ohio Valley diagnosed with Zika virus. She made a full recovery, and no other cases have been reported locally.

According to the Ohio Department of Health, the Buckeye State has reported 44 confirmed cases of Zika, all but one of which came through travel, with the other transmitted sexually. West Virginia has 11 confirmed Zika cases to date, all of which were contracted through travel, according to Gamble.

According to Gamble, precautions in the local area include the trapping and testing of mosquitoes. Both Ohio and Wetzel counties have been involved in this effort, he said, and although the Aedis aegypti species of mosquito identified as a carrier of Zika exists in West Virginia, there have been no positive tests. The species is not known to be established in Ohio, according to the state health department.

“Early in the summer, all the way up to about two weeks ago, we were collecting mosquitoes … to see what was out there,” Gamble said.

Other preventive measures include the use of “mosquito dunks” — small, doughnut-shaped items bearing mosquito larvae-killing insecticide that are thrown into standing water. These were made available through limited federal funding provided to state and local health departments to fight Zika.

According to the Belmont County Health Department, there is no vaccine for Zika virus. The best ways to keep from contracting the disease, according to the department, are to protect against mosquito bites and use condoms during sex.

When traveling to countries where Zika virus is prevalent, the Belmont County Health Department recommends wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, staying in places with air conditioning and window and door screens or sleeping under a mosquito bed net if outdoors.

In the local area, the coming of winter will make mosquitoes less prevalent — a benefit to controlling Zika. However, Gamble said the virus as a public health issue won’t be eliminated that easily.

“This is a disease we’re probably going to have to deal with next spring and summer,” Gamble said. “It is not going to go away.”

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