Health department continues Zika precautions

Published 6:58 pm Thursday, May 5, 2016

Concerns about the Zika virus in Beaufort County remain low, but Beaufort County Public Health Department is still on guard for the worst.

Eugene McRoy, an environmental health program specialist with the department, said a public forum was scheduled for Tuesday to discuss the virus, how mosquitoes spread it and how it relates to Beaufort County, but no one attended.

“A big thing we’ve always done is try to educate people about what they can do in their yards,” McRoy said, regarding mosquito control. “You get a question every now and then.”

For now, the health department plans to continue its usual mosquito surveillance efforts to keep the risk low, and at this point, there is no cause for worry, according to McRoy.

Beaufort County Public Health Department conducts about 168 mosquito traps every year to stay vigilant of what viruses mosquitos carry, and traps have been known to catch up to 14,000 mosquitoes at a time, according to environmental health specialist Stacey Harris.

However, the Zika virus is only transmitted via one species — the Asian tiger mosquito, though studies have shown it can also be spread through sexual intercourse in some cases.

There have been seven cases of the Zika virus in Beaufort County to date, but none of those were locally contracted, according to health department data.

The Zika virus was discovered in Uganda in 1947 in the Zika Forest, but substantial outbreaks did not occur until 2007. It is most commonly identified as a danger to pregnant women, as the virus can cause microcephaly, or undeveloped heads, in infants.

McRoy said Asian tiger mosquitoes are known to stay around residences, and one of the best ways to prevent them — and all mosquitoes — from breeding is to toss out standing water on one’s property.

“That’s really the only way to prevent it,” he said.

Symptoms of the virus include fever, rash, red eyes, joint pain and headaches. Most people, however, do not even become ill, McRoy said.

With the low risk of spreading in Beaufort County and the low interest in the public forum, McRoy said the game plan now is to keep tabs on it, but not excite panic where there is no need for it. If anything, news of the virus just confirms the need for precautions already taken by the health department.

“With this potential new disease coming around … it just makes it that much more critical,” McRoy said.