JMU expert warns Shenandoah Valley not off limits to Zika virus

james madison university jmuThe Zika virus, declared a global health crisis by the World Health Organization this week, could eventually show up in the Shenandoah Valley, a JMU faculty member says.

Dr. Marta K. Bechtel, associate professor of biology and director of JMU’s biotechnology program, says “we should be concerned. Just as with West Nile Virus, it is just a matter of time before Zika virus will arrive in the Shenandoah Valley.”

The Zika virus is carried by the Aedes family of mosquitoes, which are found in the United States. “A. albopictus is found throughout the southeast and Mid-Atlantic region,” Bechtel said.

Zika virus is in the family of mosquito-borne viruses like West Nile virus, Dengue virus, Yellow Fever virus and Chikungunya virus.  All cause infections in humans. Some symptoms are very mild (flu-like) while other symptoms can be severe and lead to complications.  There currently are no vaccines or cures for Zika virus.

The best way to prevent infection is to first control mosquito populations in our area, Bechtel said. She also advised wearing mosquito repellant at times mosquitoes are out. Bechtel recommends that women who are pregnant or may be pregnant not to travel to areas where Zika has been reported. Anyone who does travel to those areas should have repellant and protective clothing.

For more detailed information, Bechtel recommends going to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website (cdc.gov/zika/index.html).

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