Editorials

Editorial: California is safer than most from Zika virus

A fumigation brigade sprays an area of Chacabuco Park in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Jan. 27 in an attempt to control Aedes mosquitoes. The Zika virus is spread by that type of mosquito.
A fumigation brigade sprays an area of Chacabuco Park in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Jan. 27 in an attempt to control Aedes mosquitoes. The Zika virus is spread by that type of mosquito. The Associated Press

The warnings from the World Health Organization about the Zika virus are undeniably alarming.

During the next year, as many as 4 million people in the Americas could be exposed to the mosquito-spread virus, which is linked to brain damage in infants and paralysis in adults. Cases have been reported in about two dozen countries, including the United States. Pregnant women are being warned to stay away from certain countries.

But in California, there’s no need to “freak out,” Dr. Jorge Parada, medical adviser for the National Pest Management Association, told The Sacramento Bee’s Sammy Caiola. At least not yet.

So far, there’s only been one case here – a girl in Los Angeles County who contracted the virus last year while traveling to El Salvador, which, like Brazil, is a hotbed for Zika. She recovered.

Otherwise, public health officials insist it will be hard for the virus, spreading “explosively” elsewhere, to make inroads in California. So try to remember that this week when the WHO convenes an emergency meeting to decide whether to declare a public health emergency.

For California’s relative immunity, we can thank our dry Mediterranean climate. But even more than that, we should thank our state’s robust and comprehensive strategy for pest control.

Most of the time, Californians dismiss efforts to eradicate or merely control the peskiest of insects as an evil that might be necessary, but should be avoided at all costs. This is particularly true when it comes to the spraying of chemicals.

Just last year, for example, a few determined Fair Oaks and Carmichael residents forced state officials to get a warrant just to treat their yards with pesticides. The Department of Food and Agriculture argued the spraying was necessary to beat back Japanese beetles, which have been ravaging trees on the East Coast for years. Residents worried about the health risks.

While these concerns are understandable – after all, no one wants to worry about a pet turning ill or getting cancer from rolling around in the grass – sometimes such chemical controls are necessary. This is particularly true when paired with vector surveillance and other methods to reduce the population of pests that spread disease.

Neutralizing Zika-carrying mosquito in the Valley

The insects known for spreading the Zika virus, the striped Aedes mosquito, were found in the Valley in Clovis and Madera in 2013 and since then have been captured in southeast Fresno, Exeter and Arvin in Kern County.

The tropical diseases transmitted by this type of mosquito have symptoms that include fever, severe headaches and body aches. Valley doctors need to inquire about recent travel history for patients who have flu-like symptoms and severe joint pain, local health officials have said.

Last summer, the Fresno County-based Consolidated Mosquito Abatement District embarked on a novel approach to eradicate the mosquito: Use the insect’s libido to help in the ongoing fight to control the invasive species. Males are dusted with an insecticide, so when they mate, the offspring wither and never develop.

The sooner the little buggers – known as the “rats of the mosquito world” – are gone, the better.

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