Threat Of Zika, Other Diseases Rises After Flooding

After the recent flooding and continuing rains this past week, the Hidalgo County Health Department issued a warning to area residents that the threat of mosquito-borne diseases may be on the rise.

“Our mosquito problem is going to be bad, and it going to be a long-term problem. This is not going to go away in a week or two weeks,” Eddie Olivarez, Director of the Hidalgo County Health Department, said. “Mosquito eggs can last four or five months before hatching, so we have to keep working on this over the long-term, not just when it’s raining.”

The Hidalgo County Health Department advises that mosquito control depends on four areas: source reduction, bite reduction, spraying and larviciding.

Source reduction refers to eliminating where mosquitos breed and grow. Any item that can hold standing water needs to be emptied on a regular basis to limit their breeding opportunities. Mosquitos can breed in as little as a half-inch of water.

At the same time, residents are urged to cut their yards and trim brush and shrubbery to reduce the areas where mosquitos can lay their eggs.

• At least weekly empty or get rid of cans, buckets, old tires, pots, plant saucers and other containers that hold water.

• Keep gutters clear of debris and standing water.

• Remove standing water around structures and from flat roofs.

• Change water in pet dishes daily.

• Rinse and scrub vases and other indoor water containers weekly.

• Change water in wading pools and bird baths several times a week.

• Maintain backyard pools or hot tubs.

• Cover trash containers.

• Water lawns and gardens carefully so water does not stand for several days.

• Screen rain barrels and openings to water tanks or cisterns.

• Treat front and back door areas of homes with residual insecticides if mosquitoes are abundant nearby.

• If mosquito problems persist, consider pesticide applications for vegetation around the home.

Bite reduction is another area where residents can take an active role.  They should wear cool, lightweight clothing that offers protection from bites, such as shirts with long sleeves, pants and socks. Residents should also wear insecticide when outdoors. This includes children and pets. There are many choices on the market, including natural insecticides.

Hidalgo County is also partnering with the cities to spray throughout neighborhoods in the county to kill off mosquitos. However, it can only be done under certain weather conditions that allow the spray to reach areas where mosquitos live.

“We can only spray if the wind is less than ten miles per hour, if it’s not raining and if the humidity level is below 80 percent,” Olivarez said. “We end up spraying very early in the morning because that’s when the wind is the calmest and the mosquitoes are the most active.”

The county is also urging residents to place kill mosquito eggs by placing larvicide pellets in standing water that can’t be drained. The pellets are available from various department stores and home and garden stores.

The Hidalgo County Health Department launched an outreach campaign to include door-to-door visits, advising residents of the dangers and precautions they can take to reduce mosquito growth and bites.

While mosquito bites are irritating, these insects also pose a health risk to humans and animals through the transmission of diseases like the West Nile virus, Zika virus, Dengue Fever virus and the Chikungunya virus.

Common symptoms of Zika virus include fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis. Most people contracting Zika virus will have mild or no symptoms. Illness generally lasts a few days to a week. Although uncommon, there have been serious cases requiring hospitalization. Expectant mothers infected with Zika can also pass the virus to their fetus during pregnancy. In children infected in the womb, the virus can cause serious birth defects.

Pregnant? Traveling? Work outdoors? If you fit into one or more of these groups, you are at a greater risk of contracting or passing along Zika. The Zika virus can spread from pregnant woman to unborn child, if the mother is infected during pregnancy.

Working outside or traveling to places where Zika is active causes a greater chance of coming into contact with the virus and spreading it. The best thing you can do to avoid these results is to prevent infection. Currently, there is no vaccine or treatment for the Zika virus.

The Zika virus can also be spread through sexual contact and blood transfusion. In known cases of sexual transmission, people spread the virus to their sex partners. Research shows the virus might persist in semen longer than in blood; studies to determine the duration of persistence in semen are not yet completed.

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