Know Zika risk factors, actions to take to prevent catching virus

The Zika virus has been making headlines lately. With mosquito season already underway, you may want to know the status of the virus in Indiana and the vectors that spread it.

In a recent presentation to the Indiana Pesticide Review Board, vector-borne epidemiologist Lee Green of the Indiana State Department of Health gave a report on this topic, giving action items for prevention.

The good news is that all Zika virus cases to date in the United States were travel-acquired. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has received no report of the virus having been caught within the United States. The more challenging news is that the two mosquito species that carry the virus are normally present in Indiana. The more common species is considered to be “ineffective” in transmitting the virus, and the species of greatest concern (A. aegypti) is present in the southeastern counties of Indiana.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected. However, Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly, as well as other severe fetal brain defects. Once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections.”

Recent rapid spread

The Zika virus was first identified in Uganda in 1947, with outbreaks in the Pacific Islands in 2007 and 2013. Most recently Brazil began to see infections in 2015, with more than a million people infected by January of this year. Microcephaly is normally seen in 150 to 200 Brazilian babies each year, but the year leading to January saw 4,000 cases. The virus is present in most of Mexico and South and Central America.It has recently been found that Zika can be transmitted mother-to-child, through blood transfusions and through sexual contact. This information is important if we are to protect those who are vulnerable to the most serious impacts of the disease.

Risk factors in Indiana

So what might an outbreak in Indiana look like? According to Lee Green at the Indiana State Department of Health, an outbreak is “more likely when multiple infected individuals are present and frequently exposed to bites.” In our climate and culture, air conditioning and window screens afford us far more protection than in the tropical areas where Zika is active.Those diagnosed with Zika will be cautioned to avoid situations where they could be mosquito-bitten in the following seven to 10 days.


you can takeIf you are wondering why a Purdue Extension educator with a horticulture background is telling you about this public health matter, it is because one part of prevention is in the landscape. The most effective transmitter of Zika (A. aegypti) is well-adapted to human habitations, reproducing in the standing water of old tires, bird baths and other vessels.

Take a hard look at items that hold water outdoors, eliminate those that you can and follow best practices for those you will keep. (Like changing bird bath water daily.)

If Zika comes to stay, you will want to follow all of the best practices for avoiding mosquito bites if you don’t already, but we’re not there yet.

For more from the Indiana State Department of Health, go online at