The war on mosquitoes as the Zika virus spreads

The Zika Virus has many people, especially pregnant women frightened. The virus is spread by mosquitoes and apparently through sexual contact.

In the United States, there have been 107 cases of Zika so far among people who recently traveled to South America. Mosquitoes have not spread the virus into the United States yet, but experts fear that could soon change.

The images are heartbreaking with babies born with small and underdeveloped heads. Experts suspect it's linked to the spreading virus which is already prevalent in some parts of South and Latin America and headed to the USA and Arizona.

"I think we should always be concerned about the potential for a new disease," said Dr. Susan Holecheck.

Susan Holecheck is with ASU's Biodesign Institute, which is following the virus. She says Zika is part of a family of viruses commonly spread by mosquitoes, but Zika is different.

"What makes Zika different is the mode of transportation. We have never before seen a flavivirus that has been transmitted sexually," said Holecheck.

In the United States, more than a dozen cases have been blamed on sexual contact. The Valley has not seen a case of Zika, but the mosquito that carries it has been feasting on us for more than a decade. It's the Aedes Egypti Mosquito, first spotted in the valley in the early 2000's.

They bite during the day and can transmit Dengue virus and the Zika virus. The mosquito population explodes in the summer months.

"We tell people if you are getting bit by Aedes Egypti in your backyard, 9 times out of 10 it is coming from your backyard, you are breeding it in your backyard," said John Townsend with Maricopa County Vector Control.

The culprit is standing water. It doesn't take much, even just a capful of water is enough to create a mosquito breeding ground.

"There are so many breeding in just a regular normal neighborhood, it is almost impossible to keep up with it," said Townsend.

But they try, and the battle starts with mosquito traps set up all over the valley. Workers pick up the traps and bring them to the Vector Control lab where the mosquitoes are identified.

The mosquitos are placed into small tubes, turned into mush, and lab workers inspect their DNA and test for the virus.

When there is a positive match, that's when Vector Control uses a mosquito killing fog in the area where the mosquito was found.

"They are harder to kill because they are in people's backyard," said Townsend.

That is why getting rid of their breeding spots is so important.

"People shouldn't be frightened, but they should be cautious," said Shawn Chen.

Dr. Chen, who is also with ASU, feels a major Zika outbreak in the USA is unlikely, thanks to the efforts taken to prevent bites.

"The chance of us getting bitten by mosquitoes is way less. We also live not as crowded as some urban areas of Brazil for example. We do not have that kind of close contact from people to people, and we are better protected in our houses against mosquitoes," said Chen.

Zika causes only flu-like symptoms for most people, but the threat to pregnant women is what has health experts working overtime. Holecheck will soon head to Ecuador, part of a team trying to understand and hopefully find ways to fight the spread of Zika.

"This is a disease that you cannot just work on your own. You need to talk to other people to learn another point of view and unite efforts. You cannot do this on your own," said Dolecheck.

Pregnant women and potential mothers are counting them. In Brazil where the virus is more prevalent more than 4,000 babies have been born since last fall with a condition linked to Zika.

In 2014, there were only 147.

The CDC encourages pregnant women to postpone travel plans to Zika infected areas.

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