Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Zika and Parks: What You Need to Know

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Zika and Parks: What You Need to Know

Article excerpt

The Zika virus is coming to the United States, and it has prompted a very high level of concern on the part of public health officials at all levels. Media attention on Zika is white hot, and articles and reports are appearing on a daily basis. And it seems that each new finding about the effects of this mosquito-borne disease ratchets up fears to an even higher level.

So, what does Zika virus disease mean to parks and recreation? Are our employees and the public we serve on the front line of exposure? Do we need to take action, and if so, what kind? As the threat of locally originated cases of Zika grows, how can park and recreation agencies be best prepared to deal with this emerging public health threat?

What Is It?

Zika virus disease is a mosquito-borne disease having much in common with dengue fever, Chikungunya and West Nile virus. Zika affects the myelin sheath of nerves, resulting in neurological damage. While first thought relatively benign, Zika has now been identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the cause of microcephaly in infants and Gullian-Barre Syndrome in adults, two especially damaging neurological conditions.

Zika was first discovered in 1947 in Africa near the Zika forest in Uganda, thus its name. While known medically since 1948, it wasn't until 2007 that a widespread infection of up to 80 percent of the human population of the Island of Yap in Micronesia was discovered. However, even then, the disease still did not prompt a high level of concern because the effects on most people were mild--a slight rash, itching, fever, muscle aches and other symptoms--and where it breaks out, many people didn't even know they contracted Zika virus.

However, early in 2015, the disease began to explosively spread through the Americas beginning in Brazil. What was once seen as an ailment without serious impacts suddenly became a major public health issue. In Brazil alone, more than 4,000 cases of microcephaly, a birth defect causing an abnormally small head and incomplete brain development, were reported in 2015. In addition, a number of instances of Gullian-Barre, a condition in which the body's immune system attacks part of the peripheral nerve system, were reported in adults. Recent scientific research is now linking Zika to other possible neurological damage, and the level of public health concern has grown even higher with the recent determination by WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that Zika is a causal factor in these conditions.

How Is It Transmitted?

There are more than 3,000 species of mosquitoes world-wide, and about 173 mosquito species have been found in the United States. Only two mosquito species in the United States are considered to be potential carriers of the Zika virus. These are the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is sometimes called the Yellow Fever mosquito and more recently the "urban mosquito," and Aedes albopictus, which is commonly called the Asian tiger mosquito. Because of its habits and its closer association with humans, Aedes aegypti is considered to be the primary vector species for Zika in the United States.

Aedes aegypti has been around a long time in the United States, in fact, some attribute an outbreak of Yellow Fever in 1793 in Philadelphia to this mosquito species. The species is common in Florida, parts of the Southeast and along the Gulf Coast states. Although it is considered a tropical and sub-tropical mosquito, it has moved rapidly northward into temperate climates. A breeding population of A. aegypti has been verified in Washington, D.C. Some researchers believe that the range of this species is expanding northward because of climate change conditions. A. albopictus, the Asian tiger mosquito, only appeared in the United States in 1980, but since then, it has a much broader range northward in the country.

The Zika virus is generally transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito. …

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