Mosquito abatement teams in Salt Lake City are stepping up efforts to trap and test mosquitoes and kill larvae following the discovery of a unique Zika case that has health investigators trying to figure how the man got the virus.
The types of mosquitoes that are responsible for large outbreaks in dozens of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are not typically found in Utah, but experts say they have not ruled out the possibility that the new Utah case came from a mosquito.
The man who contracted the new case of Zika was caring for his ailing father who died with Zika after traveling to an affected country. The man, who survived, had not traveled to a Zika outbreak country, raising new questions about the way the disease spreads.
Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement District teams have been setting mosquito traps in hot spot areas and near where the father and son lived since they jumped into action last weekend to help staff from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who are in Utah, said district manager Ary Faraji. They are focusing putting traps in areas with lots of artificial containers such as tire yards, junkyards and automotive salvage yards, he said.
Test results about the mosquitoes trapped since the amped-up effort was launched are expected back later this week, he said.
The district’s teams are also putting tiny fish that eat mosquito larvae in ponds and other standing water in places like abandoned pools. Employees on bikes ride through neighborhoods dropping tiny packets in drains or gutters in waters that contain a bacterial product that kills mosquito larvae. Another team focuses on searching for mosquitoes in tree holes.
The main type of mosquito that spreads the disease was spotted once near the southern Utah city of St. George in 2013, but it was eradicated and have not been detected since, Faraji said. A secondary carrier of the virus, a mosquito known as the “Asian tiger,” was found in 2001 in the Salt Lake City area and Faraji said they’re likely to come back sooner or later.
“Our best option is to try find these mosquitoes quickly so that way we can eliminate them prior to their establishment,” Faraji said. “Once they become established, it is extremely difficult to get rid of those species.”
In Florida, health officials are investigating what could be the first Zika infection from a mosquito bite in the continental United States, involving a resident of the Miami area.
Lab tests confirmed the Zika infection, according to statements from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Florida’s Department of Health.
Health officials said the person has no apparent links to recent travel outside the country.
Health officials predicted the virus would reach U.S. mosquitoes this summer and have mobilized to keep Zika from spreading beyond isolated clusters of cases.
More than 1,300 Zika illnesses have been reported in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, including eight in Utah, according to health officials. Almost all were people who had traveled to Zika outbreak countries and caught the virus there.
On Wednesday, a mosquito abatement crew checked on a decorative pond in the front yard at Miyoung Kim’s Salt Lake City house as they made their rounds through a 111-square mile area where they keep tabs on some 700 ponds, 4,000 tree holes and 17,000 drains.
Kim said the crew comes twice a year to stock her decorative pond with the mosquito-eating fish. A native of Korea, Kim said she’s well aware of the dangers of Zika and is keeping an extra close eye on her pond.
“We make sure there’s always mosquito fishes here,” Kim said. “And we’re checking. My husband cleans up the pond once in a while and checks in the reeds.”
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