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Zika preparedness in Forsyth County

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FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. -- The international awareness and concern surrounding the Zika virus has been on the radar for mosquito control and health professional experts for years.

In Forsyth County, Ryan Harrison is the only full-time staff member of Vector control that studies and test mosquitoes year round.

He and an intern to the Forsyth County Environmental Health Department spend countless hours collecting, counting and identifying the nearly 36 species in our area.

Harrison said maybe only 17 of the species have the ability to carry diseases like the Zika virus.

Harrison said knowing the mosquito population and having a in-depth  record is the first step to Zika preparedness. Knowing their habits and patterns also helps to know how to treat a potential threat.

“If we had an emergency in this part of the state, there’s a need in order to get FEMA reimbursements, you have to have the data and the statistics about your mosquito populations in that area,” Harrison said.

Harrison explains the using pesticides on adult mosquitoes are a last resort in order to protect the incremental health of all species.  It’s called integrative mosquito management.

“Exhausting all resources available to get to the point where we have to use pesticides. So we want to address the problem where we don’t have to use pesticides and we do that through habitat modification, using and monitoring mosquito fish and larvicide,” Harrison said.

In the last couple weeks the department has added a mobile mosquito sprayer and several new traps that can catch thousands of mosquitoes.

“One night two weeks ago we caught 1,308 females and over a 1,000 males. So that instantaneously cranks up our work load to have to sit down and identify them all but its amazingly effective for what we're trying to do.”

Harrison said the type of mosquito known to carry the Zika virus is considered a home body and transmitted by the female.

“The Zika virus is transmitted  by mosquitoes that we consider to be paradomestic so they live with humans, they live around humans. So those mosquitoes will be feeding around the daytime hours and that when we're out in the garden and people are out doing yard work and things like that,” Harrison said.

Enforcement of the health departments rule on open containers on resident’s property has increased as well. A cap full of water is enough for a mosquito to breed and multiply.

“Just to give you a great example of where mosquitoes breed where nobody would think about is people's basketball hoops and they fill the water with the base. I regularly find mosquito larvae in those areas, places that people don’t think about,” Harrison said. “ We regularly issue a notice of violations, pretty common to be honest with you. With a house foreclosure and houses that are vacant, sometimes it’s really difficult for us to get in touch with property owners so we have to go that route just to try and get people’s attention and know this is a serious situation.”

If residents do not respond after the second violation notice, the court system then takes over and enforces the rule.

There has been no local transmission of the Zika virus in our state.

The Centers for Disease Control  reports there have been 1,658 cases of the Zika virus this year. Of those, 1,657 of them are travel related cases, the other in a laboratory.