After the Flood, How Much Should We Worry About Zika-Carrying Mosquitoes?

Mosquitoes don't breed in floodwaters. They drown in them, said Dr. Mustapha Debboun, director of the Mosquito Control Division at Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services.

But it's after the floodwaters subside that mosquito breeding becomes an issue, he said. And with the Zika virus on everyone's radar over the past few months, Debboun said representatives of the county agency will be heading into neighborhoods to mount an education campaign once the high waters recede in order to keep the spread of the virus under wraps as much as possible.

Zika is spread when a mosquito bites a person who already has the virus and then goes on to bite another person. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed that it can be sexually transmitted. So far, six people have tested positive for the virus within Houston city limits and an additional six tested positive in Harris County. Yesterday, a pregnant woman from Fort Bend County tested positive at Legacy Community Health in Houston, which is believed to be the first case of a Zika-positive expecting mother in the region.

As KHOU reported,
the woman had previously lived in El Salvador, where Zika is particularly rampant, before coming to the United States a couple of months ago, though it's unclear where and how she may have contracted the virus. While most people who contract Zika may simply have to deal with a rash, fever or other flu-like symptoms for several days, the virus appears to be particularly dangerous for pregnant women. The CDC last week confirmed a direct link between Zika and a serious birth defect called microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with small heads.

But Debboun said that, even after the floods, there is no need to panic. There are several things people can do to keep potential Zika-carrying mosquitoes away. For one — and this one's a bit of a no-brainer — people should wear insect repellent, especially as the temperatures begin to rise in May, Debboun said, if they don't want to get bitten. Most important, though, is that people need to drain any small or large containers that filled with water during the flood, he said. The mosquitoes like to breed in shallow, stagnant water, whether in big buckets or flower pots or even in a water bottle left outside. And mosquitoes that carry Zika are exactly the kind of mosquitoes that live in your backyard, which like these environments. "People have to help us in denying mosquitoes the chance to breed in those containers full of water," Debboun said. 

At a meeting in Greenspoint Wednesday night, Mayor Sylvester Turner also urged residents not to leave wet debris and ruined furniture from their homes out on the curb or their front lawns so as not to attract mosquitoes. He said Waste Management has pitched in by providing dozens of large Dumpsters in those worst-hit neighborhoods.

Out there, though, it's likely that a bunch of annoying tiny insects are the last thing on everyone's mind.
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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn