FRANKFORT (AP) — Six people, including at least one pregnant woman, have been diagnosed with the Zika virus in Kentucky, state officials say.
All of the confirmed cases got the disease while traveling abroad to Zika-infected areas. So far no one has contracted the virus in Kentucky. Health and Family Services Secretary Vickie Yates Brown Glisson warned it is “very possible” the disease will spread in Kentucky this summer unless people take precautions.
The Zika virus is rarely fatal. Symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain and red or burning eyes. But most people who contract the virus, about 80 percent, never show symptoms. The real danger is for pregnant women. Infants born to Zika infected mothers have a high risk for serious defects, including microcephaly, a condition where the baby’s head is smaller than normal.
Zika can be transmitted sexually, but it is primarily spread through mosquito bites. On Monday, state officials outlined their plan to combat the virus, including extensive monitoring of infants born to Zika infected mothers and assembling mosquito “strike teams” ready to deploy in areas seeing an outbreak.
But officials spent most of Monday’s briefing making sure people are aware of the virus and what they can do to prevent it. They urged people to avoid traveling to Zika infected areas, including South and Central America and the Caribbean. And they said Kentuckians should do whatever they can to eliminate mosquitoes, including getting rid of any standing water where mosquitoes can breed and to treat hedges, shrubs and tall grass to eliminate places for mosquitoes to rest.
Dr. Ardis Hoven, an infectious disease specialist with the Department of Public Health, specifically asked pregnant women not to travel to the Olympics this summer in Brazil.
“We are counting on you, so please take this advice seriously,” she said. “As with all public health issues, the best form of protection is prevention, not clean up.”
Kentucky is home to 59 species of mosquitoes, according to Grayson Brown, director of the Public Health and Entomology Laboratory at the University of Kentucky. Of those, only five species have been identified as potential carriers of the Zika virus. Of those, just one species — the aedes aegypti — has been confirmed as a Zika carrier. Brown said that mosquito is rare in Kentucky — about 1 out of every 5,000 mosquitoes caught in in the state.
The mosquito threat is so important state officials have launched a public health campaign called “Fight the Bite Day and Night.” They even have a mascot, a person wearing a mosquito costume dubbed “Marty Mosquito.” The insect has its own account on Instagram, where it is identified as a “creepy human-sized mosquito.”