NASA: Charleston at high risk for Zika virus during summer months

NASA: Charleston at high risk for Zika virus during summer months
Published: Apr. 28, 2016 at 11:17 AM EDT|Updated: Apr. 28, 2016 at 11:32 PM EDT
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The Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is spreading the virus, will likely go up in number across...
The Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is spreading the virus, will likely go up in number across much of the southern and eastern U.S. in the summer, NASA says. (Source: NASA)

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Summertime weather conditions could put Charleston at high risk of the Zika virus, NASA says.

"Even though we do have the mosquito, we don't have the virus of yet," Dr. Christopher Robinson, who practices Maternal Fetal Medicine at Roper St. Francis, said. "We just have to be cautious."

According to NASA, amounts of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is spreading the virus, will likely go up in number across much of the southern and eastern U.S. as temperatures get higher in the coming months.

Scientists at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama partnered with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, and other institutions to forecast the potential spread of Zika virus in the United States.

They say they created a Zika risk map to help government agencies and health organizations prepare for possible disease outbreaks related to the spread of the virus.

Charleston and several other southeastern cities are identified on the map in red as high risk areas for Zika because of a potentially high amount of the mosquitoes in the summer.

The researchers looked at factors including temperature, rainfall and socioeconomic factors that contribute to the spread of Zika virus to understand where and when a potential outbreak may occur. The agency also examined travel data from areas under Zika-related travel advisories.

"One of the things the CDC has recommended is that those individuals who are traveling, whether they're pregnant or not, to areas where there is Zika activity, that they also take precautions to prevent mosquito bites," Dr. Robinson said. "The way that this becomes mosquito-born is through a person who has active viral activity."

"I think you should protect yourself as much as you can," Erin Cain, resident of Edisto Island, said. "I've always been a little hesitant of deet and all those chemicals but i think you need to do the best you can to stay safe from the mosquitoes."

Doctors say Zika causes microcephaly, a disease in which babies are born with abnormally small heads and other brain defects.

"I have some pregnant friends who are very concerned," Cain, mother of two, said.

Officials say at this time, no locally-transmitted Zika cases from mosquitoes have been reported in the continental U.S. As of Thursday, DHEC said there are no confirmed cases of Zika in S.C. Health department officials did confirm there are small numbers of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which can carry Zika, in the Lowcountry. A spokesperson for the department said that number can increase as temperatures warm up.

Cases, however, have been reported by travelers returning from areas where Zika virus is present and in U.S. territories.

The Center for Disease Control says no vaccine exists to prevent the virus.

According to NASA, as Zika virus continues to spread, the number of cases among travelers visiting or returning to the country is likely to increase.

A list of all countries and territories with active Zika virus transmission can be found here.

When traveling to areas with Zika and other diseases spread by mosquitoes, the CDC advises you take the following steps:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Stay in places with air conditioning and window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
  • Sleep under a mosquito bed net if you are overseas or outside and are not able to protect yourself from mosquito bites.
  • Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents with one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or para-menthane-diol. Choosing an EPA-registered repellent ensures the EPA has evaluated the product for effectiveness. When used as directed, EPA-registered insect repellents are proven safe and effective, even for pregnant and breast-feeding women.
  • Always follow the product label instructions.
  • Reapply insect repellent as directed.
  • Do not spray repellent on the skin under clothing.
  • If you are also using sunscreen, apply sunscreen before applying insect repellent.
  • To protect your child from mosquito bites:
  • Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months old.
  • Do not use products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol on children younger than 3 years old.
  • Dress your child in clothing that covers arms and legs.
  • Cover crib, stroller, and baby carrier with mosquito netting.
  • Do not apply insect repellent onto a child’s hands, eyes, mouth, and cut or irritated skin.
  • Adults: Spray insect repellent onto your hands and then apply to a child’s face.
  • Treat clothing and gear with permethrin or purchase permethrin-treated items.
  • Treated clothing remains protective after multiple washings. See product information to learn how long the protection will last.
  • If treating items yourself, follow the product instructions carefully.
  • Do NOT use permethrin products directly on skin. They are intended to treat clothing.

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