TAMPA — With the warm, wet summer months fast approaching, Tampa Bay area residents can — and should — take steps to prevent the spread of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, local health officials said Tuesday.
It’s as simple as draining empty flowerpots, tires and upside down frisbees, said Hillsborough County Public Works Director John Lyons.
“Anything that traps water,” Lyons said, pointing out that any standing water can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Homeowners should also repair any holes in their window screens, he said. And if they notice an abundance of mosquitoes, they can call the county for help.
“Our folks will come out, meet with you, inspect your yard and take care of it,” Lyons said.
Zika has been spreading across Latin America for the last six months. People who are infected with the virus often don’t know they have it. But Zika can have serious consequences if contracted in the womb. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently concluded that Zika can cause the birth defect microcephaly.
The condition, which is marked by an unusually small head size, can have “devastating, long-term consequences,” said Dr. Jose Prieto, an obstetrician at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg.
“Those newborns may be affected with seizures, hearing loss and other devastating intellectual and cognitive impairments that place a great burden on pregnant women and their families,” he said.
Nearly 100 cases of Zika have been identified in Florida, accounting for about a quarter of all cases nationwide. All have been travel-related, meaning the patient recently traveled to country where Zika is prevalent.
But experts say that could change this summer, when temperatures are right for the Aedes aegypti mosquito to thrive, particularly in Florida.
“My suspicion is that with Zika virus infection, local transmission will arrive at some point,” Prieto said.
To that end, experts also offered tips to women who are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant this summer.
Wearing insect repellent and long-sleeve shirts can be an effective way to avoid mosquito bites, said Dr. Jamie Morano, an infectious disease expert at the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine.
Morano is also advising women to stay inside at dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most likely to bite.
“If you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, you need to stay indoors more than usual,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, said she believes it will take “an entire community effort” to stop the spread of the virus in the Tampa Bay area. She is embarking on an effort to educate her constituents about the virus and preventative measures.
“We want to make sure our neighbors have the tools they need,” she said.