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Zika virus precautions taken by Sonoma County officials

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The mosquito traps are out and medical surveillance systems are being put into place, as Sonoma County health officials and mosquito control experts prepare for the possible spread locally of Zika, an alarming viral threat that can cause severe deformities in unborn children.

While it’s not here yet, transmission of the virus — from mosquito to human and back — has recently been detected in Florida, prompting local officials to plan a response.

The two mosquito types that can carry the virus, the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, are currently present in the Los Angeles area and other parts of Southern California. Prior to this year they were detected in San Mateo and Alameda counties, though they were quickly eradicated.

“The earlier we can detect them, the more likely we can eradicate them,” said Angie Nakano, scientific programs manager for the Marin/Sonoma Mosquito Vector Control District.

“Right now, the mosquitoes are not here, so (we’re) trying to keep those mosquitoes out.”

Nakano said the district is finalizing a response plan that will be implemented should the “invasive mosquito” be found in the district.

In the meantime, district officials are encouraging local residents to take precautions by eliminating breeding conditions for the two types of Aedes mosquitoes.

And Sonoma County health officials are ratcheting up their health care surveillance and public education efforts to warn local residents about the dangerous virus and the ways it is contracted and spread.

“It’s a new illness in this region and we’re learning more and more about it,” said Dr. Karen Holbrook, deputy health officer for Sonoma County.

“If a woman gets it while she’s pregnant, there can be severe outcomes on the unborn baby.”

Holbrook said federal disease control officials now say between 1 and 13 percent of babies of infected moms will develop microcephaly, and up to 33 percent will have some type of adverse outcomes.

Those outcomes include fetal loss, eye abnormalities, calcification in the brain or some other sort of ear and brain malformation, she said.

“That’s what we know right now,” Holbrook said, adding that doctors still don’t know whether the disease has any long-term adverse health effects on infants as they get older, because those studies are still underway. In that sense, she said, the share of infants who could have adverse outcomes could be higher than 33 percent.

Before Zika was identified in Florida, health officials in Sonoma County and across the country focused on educating travelers, particularly asking pregnant women to avoid taking trips to countries where there was known active local transmission of the virus.

Male travelers were warned to take steps to avoid mosquito bites and to practice safe sex upon their return because of the danger of male-to-female transmission. But scientists have now documented female-to-male transmission.

Other recommendations for travelers to numerous Latin American countries and the Caribbean, and now Florida, include:

People traveling to these areas should practice safe sex upon their return for at least eight weeks;

Any man with symptoms of proven Zika should practice safe sex for six months; and

Women who are pregnant and have a sexual parter traveling to an area or returning should practice safe sex for the duration of their pregnancy.

Holbrook said the local health department is educating local medical staff on how to identify and document cases of Zika infection.

Nakano said the mosquito and vector control district has already put out traps specifically designed to attract the two invasive Aedes breeds, which are partial to isolated standing water vessels, rather than marsh or lake environments.

Nakano said local residents should try to identify containers or areas around their homes where water can collect and create breeding conditions, and eliminate them.

Fighting the threat, Nakano said, “requires a lot of communication and cooperation from the public.”

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin. espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @renofish.

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