AR cities begin spraying for mosquitoes in anticipation of Zika threat

Concerns of Zika virus in Arkansas
Shannan and Jared Vaughn, pictured with Braker (Source: Shannan Vaughn)
Shannan and Jared Vaughn, pictured with Braker (Source: Shannan Vaughn)
Annie and Todd Vaughn, pictured with Caroline and Ella Kate (Source: Annie Thompson)
Annie and Todd Vaughn, pictured with Caroline and Ella Kate (Source: Annie Thompson)

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - If you have been outside in the early evening hours lately, you have probably noticed that mosquitoes are starting to come out. In fact, mosquito larvae will start hatching exponentially in the next few weeks.

In Jonesboro, Vector Disease Control will start spraying area with the "worst infestations" Sunday and will spray until at least August.

"New information comes in almost every day on Zika," Vector's Jim Stark said. "The easiest way to treat this will be public education and awareness."

While we have mostly heard about the West Nile virus and chikungunya, Zika has caught the attention of doctors across the South.

"Zika is a virus that is spread mainly by certain types of mosquito," said Dr. Nathaniel Smith, director and state health officer of the Arkansas Department of Health. "The disease that it causes is generally mild but it has been associated with serious birth defects in pregnant women."

Earlier this month, the World Health Organization issued a global health emergency regarding the Zika virus.

Last week, the Arkansas Department of Health explained to the media why they are so concerned about the spread of the virus.

"Sometimes the information gets out there and there's so much of it, that people don't do the things that are really recommended and then are concerned about things that are really less concerned," Smith told Region 8 News.

Smith said pregnant women do not need to travel to areas where there is an "ongoing spread" of the virus. However, the most vulnerable people are women who are pregnant. The virus can cause a serious condition called microcephaly, where a person is born with an abnormally small head due to brain development.

"Someone who is infected with Zika, most of the time will have no symptoms at all," said Smith. "About 80% of the time but among the 20% who do have symptoms, they are usually mild."

Smith said certain mosquitoes spread Zika. The most concerning is the Aedes aegypti, which resides closer to homes.

"They bite during the day so if you get bitten during the day, it more than likely will be and Aedes mosquito," said Dr. Susan Weinstein. "This mosquito doesn't fly far from our homes. It lives around people. It is an urban mosquito."

Weinstein, the Arkansas state health veterinarian, said people need to be aware of the virus. She said people should be concerned once someone who has never been overseas catches the virus.

"We don't have this yet in the continental U.S., and I think there's been sort of an overreaction and over concern," said Weinstein.

"I don't think it's over hyped because we do go through periods of time where we don't hear about it at all," Annie Thompson said.

Thompson, a mother of two, expects her third child in July. Even though her doctor has told her not to worry about the Zika virus, she still can't help but wonder.

"Nobody is guaranteed that they will have a healthy child. Anything could potentially happen," said Thompson.

Thompson is due three days apart from her best friend, who is expecting her second child.

"Is Jonesboro equipped to take care of my child? Am I going to have what I need to take care of my child?" Shannan Vaughn asked.

Shannan said she has searched enough online to feel comfortable. An ultrasound has shown no problems with her child.

"I feel like with every pregnancy you're always terrified and you're always going to have that what if this happens or what if that happens," Shannan said. "The best thing you can do is trust your doctor, trust in God, and know that everything is going to be okay. But with this Zika virus going on it's terrifying."

Shannan said her biggest fear is the unknown.

"Could this really happen here and is our medical staff prepared to handle this if it happens here? That would be my biggest concern," Shannan said.

"My personality is to be nervous," Annie said. "I have to be informed to be comfortable and I want the most up to date information before I can calm down about it."

The health department has placed traps in certain parts of the state to determine what types of mosquitos are breeding. From there, a lab in Little Rock will test the mosquitos for Zika.

Dr. Weinstein said we have the ability to improve our fight against the bugs.

"We can't spray it away. This is where we have to reduce the sources of the mosquitoes around our homes. Reduce any standing water around our homes," said Dr. Weinstein.

Our best bet to fight the mosquito has not changed:

  • Get rid of any standing water in your yard to eliminate mosquito larvae.
  • Remove grass clippings, leaves and firewood from your yard.
  • Tip over any item in your yard that holds water, including pet’s water bowls, toys, sandboxes, etc.
  • Tighten tarps if they are stretched over items to prevent smaller pools of water.
  • Perform regular maintenance, including cleaning out gutters, doing lawn work and checking water hoses for leaks.
  • Talk to your neighbors. If you do all the work and your neighbors do not, then you’re not really taking care of the problem.

"This time of year, it's usually the north Jonesboro area," Stark said on where mosquitoes are located in late April. "Later in the spring and summer, that will switch to south Jonesboro, mainly due to rice irrigation."

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