A team of researchers at Western Carolina University, East Carolina University, N.C. State University, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and local health departments have been examining local mosquito populations to determine whether the mosquito species that carries Zika — the Aedes aegypti — is present in the state.
Brian Byrd, an associate professor at WCU who is participating in the project, said in an email that each university is partnered with approximately five counties for a survey.
“The local environmental health specialists or public works personnel in these counties are collecting mosquito samples using simple ‘egg traps’ called ovitraps,” he said.
Byrd said the samples are sent to the universities, where the eggs are counted under a microscope, hatched and then later identified to species after they mature.
As of the end of July, the universities have received 104,747 Aedes eggs. From these, 20,178 specimens have been identified to species and none have been identified as the Aedes aegypti, he said.
“(These results) should reassure N.C. citizens that the risk of Zika transmission in North Carolina is very low, but should not deter them from taking reasonable and effective measures to avoid mosquito bites,” Byrd said.
The N.C. DHHS said in a statement North Carolina is prepared for the Zika virus and the risk of the species appearing in the state is low.
So far, there have been 36 travel-associated cases of Zika confirmed in the state, but no locally acquired cases have been reported.
Allison Aiello, a UNC epidemiologist, said in an email there is no current vaccination or way to treat the virus.
“The main reasons public health officials are concerned about Zika is because once a woman is bitten, it can be transmitted to her fetus (if pregnant) and cause birth defects,” she said.
Although the virus is primarily transmitted by mosquito bites, scientists have now learned it can be sexually transmitted, she said.
“More research is needed to keep up with the swift developments regarding Zika outbreaks in the U.S.,” Aiello said.
Current research efforts include developing mosquito treatments and vaccines for humans that can protect at-risk populations and limit transmission, she said.
Aiello said it is important to listen to advice from public health officials regarding risky travel areas and prevention methods, especially during pregnancy.
“The CDC website is a great resource for information on surveillance and up to date educational information on Zika,” she said.