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Preventing Zika Infection on Molokai

By Catherine Cluett Pactol

Mosquito-borne viruses are making headlines lately, and while Zika hasn’t yet made an appearance in Hawaii, the state has been identified as one of the country’s higher risk areas for the disease. According to Dr. Lorrin Pang, an MD with the Hawaii Department of Health’s Maui District Health Office, Zika has reached “crisis proportions” in many countries, and he visited Molokai to educate residents on the disease and preventative measures.

Zika, pronounced “zeeka,” is a virus carried by mosquitos and while many viruses carry nasty symptoms, Pang said 80 percent of the time, a Zika-infected person won’t even know they’re sick. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash and joint pain, which can last for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito. If you suspect any of these symptoms, contact a DOH public health nurse on Molokai by calling (808) 553-7880. Viruses like Zika can’t be treated with drugs, and Pang said a reliable vaccine has not yet been released and may be years in the making. But identifying Zika cases is crucial in preventing the spread of the disease.

Zika can be spread by two mosquito species, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, and Pang said Molokai has both. Mosquitos become infected by biting a Zika-positive human, and can then pass on the virus to other people it bites. Sexual transmission can only occur from infected men through semen. It can also be transmitted from a pregnant woman to her fetus, one of the most dangerous scenarios of the disease. Zika infection in pregnant women is known to cause of microcephaly, or babies born with small heads, and other severe fetal brain and nervous system defects.

Pang advised women who have gone to a known Zika-infected area not to get pregnant for at least two months. For men infected with Zika, Pang advised, “don’t have a baby for six months.”

Pang said mosquito control is the best form of prevention. He advised Molokai residents to control mosquitos within 200 yards of homes by clearing foliage and spraying your garden with soapy water every eight days. That treatment is effective in killing mosquito larvae that breed in standing water that often collects in plants and foliage, he said. He also advised using long sleeved clothing and insect repellant when outside to protect from bites, and lighting smoke repellants such as mosquito punks.

The State of Hawaii has just launched a “Fight the Bite” campaign to help keep Hawaii free of diseases spread by mosquitoes, such as Zika, dengue and chikungunya, through public education. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has awarded Hawaii $1 million as part of $25 million in funding to protect Americans from Zika virus infection.

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