News | Sept. 23, 2016

Prevention key to staying ahead of Zika virus

By Kimberly Fritz DLA Aviation Public Affairs

Defense Supply Center Richmond is one of four federal installations in Central Virginia collecting mosquitoes to test for the Zika virus. Defense Logistics Agency Installation Support at Richmond’s Environmental Office is working with Kenner Army Health Clinic’s Preventive Medicine Clinic to prevent the spread (or reduce the risk) of the microcephaly causing disease in the commonwealth. Microcephaly is a medical condition in which the brain does not develop properly during pregnancy resulting in a smaller than normal head.

Kenner’s Health Services staff supports many military and government installations in Central Virginia including DSCR. They are responsible for preventative medicine support at Fort Lee, DSCR, Fort Pickett, Fort A.P. Hill, the National Ground Intelligence Center in Charlottesville and the Radford Arsenal in Radford, said Army 1st Lt. Kyle Fortner, environmental officer at Kenner. Four of the areas, Fort Lee, Fort Pickett, Fort A.P. Hill and DSCR, are collecting mosquitoes.

Fortner, who is spearheading efforts to keep ahead of the potential spread of Zika, said each installation sets two traps once a week during the mosquito season that runs through the summer and until the first hard-freeze. Twenty-four hours later, the collection bags are recovered and the biting beasts inside are frozen for two hours. Then each mosquito is classified by genus into the categories that have the potential to carry Zika and those that cannot. Those flying fiends that can carry Zika are sent to the regional Public Health Command, Atlantic at Fort Meade, Maryland, for further study. If the disease is detected in any of those specimens, officials at DSCR, at the Virginia Department of Health and with the Centers for Disease Control would be notified and a protocol for preventing the spread of this disease set in motion, he said.

Most of the installations in the Public Health Command’s Atlantic region are collecting mosquitoes, as well as many civilian communities wherever the Aedes aegypti (Yellow Fever mosquito) and the Aedes albopictus (Asian Tiger mosquito) are common, he said. These are the Zika carrying genus.

Fortner explained his job as an environmental officer, and those like him, is to conduct surveillance  for potential disease outbreaks and recommend prevention measures to reduce the risk.

“We do disease surveillance to anticipate and identify the disease once it arrives in an area. The recommendations that will be given to you and I when we are outside where we may encounter mosquitoes carrying the virus will change as we become aware of the disease in our area,” he said. Right now, the recommendations are to protect yourself against mosquito bites with insect repellant.

“Mosquitos have the ability to fly only short distances — about 400 to 600 meters,” he said. “If there’s an aedes mosquito in your backyard it is likely breeding there too,” Fortner said.  When the virus arrives in this part of the U.S., the health department and community leaders will be notified and precautions taken to avoid mosquito-to-human infection. There is good news when it comes to Zika. It’s limited to humans and mosquitoes. It is transmitted from mosquitoes to human and human to mosquito which reduces the number of cases.

This type of mosquito lays eggs in standing water in artificial containers, such as trashcan lids, recycling containers or anything that can hold more than a tablespoon of water.

“If your gutters are clogged and holding water, it provides a great breeding ground for mosquitoes,” he said. “Dump anything that is holding water.”

We catch a little bit of a break with this virus because people live and work in air-conditioned buildings and houses and aren’t bit as frequently, he said. The Aedes genus is a day-time feeding mosquito.

Citizens can get information about Zika in the United States by visiting the CDC’s website at www.cdc.gov and for the situation in other parts of the world, by visiting the World Health Organization’s website at www.who.int