Experts: Mosquitoes won’t bring Zika to Michigan – Detroit Free Press

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Experts say the chance of Zika virus becoming established in northern states such as Michigan is practically non-existent.

That hasn’t stopped Oakland County, however, from announcing a strategy to deal with Zika virus should it turn up in Michigan.

“The risk in Michigan is low to nil,” said Ned Walker, an entomologist and mosquito expert at Michigan State University. He was among the first to point out the risks associated with West Nile virus.

“We do not have the mosquito carriers in our state,” he said in an email. “We certainly will have imported cases in people who travel to areas where virus transmission is ongoing, just as we do for dengue virus infections currently.”

People looking for a mid-winter break in a warmer clime might want to consider their options. The virus is found in tropical climates and the current outbreak is in the Caribbean and Central and South America.

Jennifer Michaluk, with the St. Clair County Health Department, noted that universities and schools will be on spring break in April.

“We have a Zika link on our website right now, and we have been posting Zika updates on Facebook,” she said.

Dr. Annette Mercatante, health department director, said the Centers for Disease Control have posted an advisory warning pregnant women not to travel to countries reporting Zika virus.

“I don’t really think the public has been engaged much because the epidemic’s not here,” she said. “The real issue is this is the first time in a long time we’ve seen a CDC recommendation that advises pregnant women not to travel (to certain countries) or that if a woman comes back from travel and she’s symptomatic, then we’re going to be testing.”

Babies born with microcephaly have smaller than normal heads and can have developmental and intellectual issues. Some doctors have blamed microcephaly cases on an insect larvicide.

While there have been cases of Zika virus reported in states neighboring Michigan, including Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, those were people who had been traveling in areas where the virus is endemic or native.

Zika virus was discovered in Uganda in 1947, said Mary McCarry, a biologist who works for Bay County Mosquito Control. There were 14 human cases of Zika reported from 1954 to 2007, she said.

According to information from the CDC, countries in the Americas with active Zika transmission include Mexico, all of Central America and Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Venezuela and other South American nations. It also is active in the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“In South America and Central America, where they are seeing cases, the main mosquitoes they are linking it with is Aedes aegypti,” McCarry said.

Aedes aegypti has its own chapter in the history of human misery. It transmits dengue fever and, more notoriously, yellow fever. The mosquito and yellow fever were among the factors that stymied French efforts in the late 1800s to build a ship canal across the Isthmus of Panama; a yellow fever epidemic in 1793 killed about 5,000 of Philadelphia’s population of 45,000 people.

The virus also is linked to Aedes albopictus, which has been detected farther north than Aedes aegypti, according to an email to the St. Clair County Health Department from Eric Foster, a medical entomologist with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

“We do have mosquitoes in the genus Aedes in Michigan and theoretically some of them could transmit the virus, but I think the possibility is remote,” Walker said. “If this were a common occurrence, I think we would already see it for dengue but we don’t, so that is a good sign that it is quite unlikely.”

West Nile virus, however, also was a little-known disease in Michigan before 2002 when 644 cases and 51 deaths were reported in the state — including a single case and death in St. Clair County. The virus caused two deaths in 2015.

Walker and other experts said it’s unlikely Zika will become the next West Nile.

“West Nile infects birds as a natural host, whereas Zika is a human virus,” Walker said. “Without a host to function in keeping the virus infection in the human population, Zika will not establish in Michigan.”

In his email, Foster said: “We are not anticipating any local spread of Zika by mosquitoes in Michigan, however we are remaining vigilant in conducting surveillance for mosquitoes and mosquito-borne viruses.  This will allow us to know whether our risk in Michigan is increasing.” ​

People who do travel to areas where Zika is endemic need to protect themselves.

“I would say the best way to protect yourself is to wear a repellent,” said McCarry. Most experts recommend a repellent containing DEET, but other repellents are available, she said, containing active ingredients such as picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus.

Aedes mosquitoes bite during the day, so wear long sleeves and long pants in areas with mosquitoes.

“Mosquito avoidance, repellents, don’t travel there … these are tough issues because I think there is no perfect preventive measure,” Walker said.

While researchers are working on a vaccine for Zika, travelers can protect themselves from other diseases by making sure they have their recommended shots.

“I think the local spin on this is a lot of people travel, really just — it’s such an American thing — with not being aware with the health risks associated with going to even the Caribbean,” Mercatante said. “It’s endemic now with Chikungunya and dengue (fever),and now we have Zika. In addition to that, it’s a hot bed for a lot of the vaccine preventable diseases that we spend so much time dealing with and travel is one of the greatest risks.

“We have something called a travel clinic here. I don’t think a lot of people use it when they should.”

She said travelers outside the United States should consult an expert before leaving.

“We subscribe to a very updated CDC version of a travel (program),it’s called TRAVAX,” Mercatante said. “There is a cost to it, the cost is $75. However, you get the very latest updated travel health support and advice, including we have all the vaccines that are required. Many of these vaccines that are recommended for outside travel are not available at your regular doctor’s office.”

Contact Bob Gross at (810) 989-6263 or Follow him on Twitter @RobertGross477.

Zika virus

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control, the most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika.
  • The CDC is reporting 84 travel-associated cases of Zika virus in the continental United States including in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois The agency has a Zika travel advisory at
  • In the Americas, countries and places reporting Zika virus are Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Curacao, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Martinique, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname, U.S. Virgin Islands and Venezuela.
  • Other mosquito-borne diseases endemic in those areas are dengue fever and Chikungunya. According to the CDC, the principal symptoms of dengue fever are high fever, severe headache, severe pain behind the eyes, joint pain, muscle and bone pain, rash, and mild bleeding from the gums and nose. There is no vaccine for preventing dengue
  •  Chikungunya symptoms, according to the CDC, include fever and joint pain and headache, muscle pain, joint swelling, or rash.The disease does not often result in death, but the symptoms can be severe and disabling. There are no medicines to treat Chikungunya.
  • Visit the CDC website at for more information.

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Experts: Mosquitoes won’t bring Zika to Michigan – Detroit Free Press

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