As residents of Baltimore County remain ever vigilant for any signs of a mosquito infestation in their area, a new health risk weighs heavily on their minds. Many are fearful of the infamous Zika Virus, a South American infectious disease that is primarily spread through mosquito bites. While Baltimore County health officials stand poised to physically intervene wherever necessary, in these early stages of summer, spreading public awareness is the key to preventing a future epidemic.
On Tuesday, June 28, a public seminar will be held at the Baltimore County Department of Health from 6 to 7 p.m. to provide crucial information about the Zika Virus and how to prevent its transmission. Two key government officials, the Deputy Health Secretary and Director of Baltimore County Department of Health and Human Services, will be facilitating the lecture with both expert advice and their past experiences combating the Zika Virus. Residents are invited to voice their concerns and receive helpful tips to help assuage any fears.
The Zika Virus was first observed in African rhesus monkeys in 1947, and discovered in humans a mere 5 years later. The virus has ravaged warmer regions of the world ever since, most recently by Brazil in May of 2015. Only one type of mosquito, the Aedes aegypti, carries the Zika Virus. However, since the Aedes aegypti mosquito thrives in all countries of the Americas (with the exceptions of Chile and Canada), health experts expect infected mosquitos to steadily carry the virus northwards until it eventually reaches the United States in due time.
The Zika Virus presents itself in the form of very mild symptoms – red eyes, coughing, fever, soreness and rash – but its effects on unborn babies are devastating. One of the more prevalent effects is microcephaly, which results in newborns having severely misshapen heads, undeveloped brains, and a host of mental and physical complications that often require a full-time caretaker. There is also a high infant mortality rate for those infected.
According to Baltimore County health officials, 80% of those infected display absolutely no symptoms whatsoever. There is no cure for the disease, although a vaccine is currently in the works. Until then, the virus simply has to run its course for the time being. Aside from mosquito bite, the virus can be passed by males through semen, making this sexually-transmitted disease potentially a silent killer of unborn children. For these reasons, raising awareness is the primary goal of the Baltimore County Department of Health above all else.
While informational campaigns are important, physical precautions in Baltimore County are underway as well. The state health department distributed 1,250 “Zika kits” to Baltimore County. These kits included mosquito spray, condoms to prevent sexual transmission of the Zika Virus, and larvicide to eradicate waterborne mosquito colonies. In addition, the Maryland Agriculture department and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene regularly track and test the local mosquito population for infectious diseases of all kinds, including the Zika Virus.
The county’s educational efforts seem to be making a positive impact on public awareness. To date, the Baltimore County Health Department has received 104 phone calls about mosquitos since March, far more than previous years. If you see any yard or similar area with standing water (which is where mosquitos breed), then you are encouraged to contact the Baltiomre County Health Department at (410) 887-2243 so that they may send an investigator to inspect the site.
The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene confirmed 26 cases of the Zika Virus in the state of Maryland. However, these were not from local mosquito bites, but rather from Maryland residents who visited infected countries and returned home. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports a total of 819 confirmed cases of the Zika Virus in the United States, all travel-related. Maryland ranks the sixth most active state for the Zika Virus out of the country.