UK entomologist says Ky. not likely to have Zika outbreak this year, but state still sprays around homes of those few with virus

Aedes Aegypti mosquito (CDC photo)

An entomologist from the University of Kentucky encourages Kentuckians to stay calm about the Zika virus because Kentucky does not have many of the mosquitoes known to transmit the disease, and therefore is not likely to have an outbreak.

“Keep calm, don’t overreact and enjoy what’s left of summer. Zika is not likely to cause a mosquito-borne outbreak in Kentucky in 2016,” Grayson C. Brown, director of the Public Health Entomology Laboratory at the university, wrote in an op-ed for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The op-ed comes on the heels of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting that the Zika virus is being locally transmitted between humans and mosquitoes in southern Florida.

Grayson explains that the mosquito that transmits Zika, the Aedes aegypti or yellow-fever mosquito, was common in Kentucky until the mid 1980s. But since, it has been replaced by the Aedes albopictus, or the Asian tiger mosquito. He wrote, “Over the last two years, we have only found four out of over 26,000 mosquitoes caught.”

“The significance of Asian tiger mosquitoes replacing yellow-fever mosquitoes here is that Asian tiger mosquitoes either do not transmit Zika or are much less efficient at it,” he wrote. “Lacking the principal vector, we do not expect a significant outbreak of Zika in Kentucky this year.”

He also noted that mosquito season is coming to an end, which will decrease any further threat of a Zika local outbreak.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Agriculture sprayed an insecticide for adult mosquitoes around the home of an Alexandria resident who contracted the Zika virus while traveling outside the country, Chris Mayhew and Anne Saker report for The Kentucky Enquirer. Mosquitoes can pick up the virus by biting infected people, then transmit it to others.

City officials were upset that they weren’t told about the spraying. The Northern Kentucky Health Department cited privacy concerns. “The spraying is done in such a concentrated area, a matter of blocks, around the affected person, that to identify the neighborhood would likely be a violation” of the federal patient- privacy law, said Emily Gresham Wherle, spokeswoman for the department.

Grayson urged Kentuckians to not overreact and to use “common-sense mosquito-avoidance techniques” like using a repellent only when necessary, emptying containers that hold water and to avoid being outdoors between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m., when mosquitoes are most active.

He also reminded Kentuckians that state and local health departments have been preparing for Zika since last October and have developed rapid-response teams to respond to an outbreak if it occurs.

But he also told Kentuckians to stay informed because “next year may well be a different story.”

“Zika has proven to be difficult to predict, as it has mutated. It may well jump to another mosquito more common here. If we start seeing significant caseloads in Georgia, for instance, we’ll have to go on alert here,” he wrote.

Grayson cautioned travelers to Zika-infected areas, especially pregnant women and women who plan on becoming pregnant, to follow the CDC guidelines for how to prevent mosquito bites and how to practice safe sex both during and after travel.

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