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The outreach campaign that started this week urges people to fight invasive Aedes mosquitoes, which can transmit Zika and other illnesses if they first bite an infected person, by finding and dumping out standing water in and around homes so mosquitoes can’t breed.

Zika is harmless to most people, but it’s been directly linked to a severe birth defect. The virus has made its way into mosquito populations in nearly 100 countries and two U.S. states, but not here. No invasive Aedes mosquitoes have tested positive for Zika in San Diego County or California. Public and environmental health officials want to keep it that way, by keeping mosquitoes from breeding, and away from contact with local residents who become infected while traveling.

The County campaign will push its message through televised video and radio public service announcements, interviews, posters placed in bus stops and transit shelters, and even a large digital billboard along Interstate 5 near the U.S. – Mexico border.

The campaign is intended to reach all county residents, but particularly pregnant women, couples who may want to become pregnant, travelers and people who commute back and forth between Mexico and the county.

Officials want to reach pregnant women and couples thinking about pregnancy because Zika has been linked to microcephaly, a birth defect where babies’ heads and brains are smaller than normal.

In March, a San Diego County woman gave birth to a baby with microcephaly after contracting Zika while traveling pregnant to countries with the Zika virus. It was the first such case in the county.

Officials want to reach travelers and commuters to stress how important it is for them to protect themselves against mosquito bites while outside the U.S. so they don’t return home infected. Zika has been transmitted by mosquito populations in Mexico as far north as Ensenada, just 80 miles south of the border.

There has been promising news about Zika so far in 2017.

Case numbers appear to be dropping after Zika raced through the Western Hemisphere in 2015-16. All of San Diego County’s Zika cases remain travel-related. So far in 2017, 10 county residents have tested positive for travel-related Zika, including two infants born to women who became infected traveling.  That means the only way for a county resident to get Zika here is to get bitten while traveling; get bitten here by a mosquito that bites an infected, returning traveler; or by having sex with an infected person.

But all of that could change quickly. All it would take would be for a mosquito to bite an infected person, fly off, bite someone else and transmit the virus to them. That could create a chain reaction that could establish the virus here. And the county is entering the peak breeding months for invasive Aedes mosquitoes.

County officials said this is what local residents need to know and do:

Find and Dump Out Standing Water in and Around Homes

County Vector Control officials said all county residents should look around their homes and yards at least once a week to find and dump out any standing water to make sure invasive Aedes mosquitoes do not have places to breed.

Unlike native mosquito species, invasive Aedes mosquitoes prefer to live and breed right next to people, in yards and even inside homes.

Invasive Aedes mosquitoes can reproduce in the smallest amounts of water, even in a bottle cap. Water from rain or sprinklers can collect in all kinds of items, including: plant saucers, rain gutters, rain barrels, buckets, garbage cans, old tires, wheelbarrows, even toys. The County’s Vector Control Program gives out mosquito fish for free that can be used to control mosquito breeding in water sources like unused swimming pools, ponds, fountains and horse troughs.

Protect Yourself from Mosquito Bites — Especially Pregnant Women, Couples Considering Pregnancy and People Traveling to Countries with Zika

Hot months are peak mosquito season — not only for invasive Aedes mosquitoes, but for native Culex mosquitoes that can transmit West Nile virus. Residents should protect themselves from being bitten by mosquitoes by taking simple steps. These steps are also especially important for pregnant women, couples thinking about having children and anyone traveling to countries where Zika is established.

  • Use insect repellents with DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol for long-lasting protection. Pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding should use insect repellents registered with the Environmental Protection Agency and follow directions on the label. Do not use insect repellents on infants under two months of age.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants.
  • Keep windows and doors closed if possible and check window and door screens to make sure they don’t have tears or holes.

Check Travel Advisories, Especially Pregnant Women and Couples Considering Pregnancy

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publishes a list of countries and territories where Zika has been transmitted by mosquitoes at the CDC Zika Travel Information website. Anyone who travels to a country or area where Zika is established should protect themselves from mosquitoes while traveling, and for three weeks after they return home — even if they do not feel sick — to prevent the potential spread of Zika.

Remember Zika Can be Transmitted Sexually and During Pregnancy

Although Zika is mainly transmitted by mosquitoes, it can also be transmitted sexually. Consequently anyone who travels to, or who has intimate relations with a person who has traveled to, places with Zika should protect themselves during sex by using condoms or other barriers, or by avoiding having sex, even after they return home. Couples who are considering pregnancy should speak with a health care provider to discuss a safe length of time to wait before trying to become pregnant.

For more information about Zika, the CDC has several web pages, including: About ZikaZika/PregnancyZika/Transmission and Zika/Prevent Mosquito Bites.

The County’s Vector Control Program also has information about protecting yourself and your family from mosquitoes and mosquito-borne illnesses at the San Diego County Fight the Bite website.

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