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Tracking The Zika Virus In Nevada


Particles of Zika virus are colored red in this transmission electron micrograph.

Clark and Washoe County health districts are awaiting the results of tests of more than 20 possible cases of the Zika virus in Nevada.

Washoe County has sent nearly a dozen samples to the Centers for Disease and Control, for testing. Clark County sent more than 22 samples.  

So far the tests have revealed only two cases of Zika in Nevada, which is spread primarily though mosquito bites.  

Less than two weeks ago, Dan Mackie, Nevada’s state epidemiologist, helped prepare a report on the Zika virus status in Nevada.  In the last few days, Mackie has updated that report.


Is this the same disease reported in Africa in 1947?

It appears to be the same one. But what is interesting about a virus such as this is that although the virus itself has been around for quite a long time the population that the virus is exposed to it’s new to them. It’s basically moving eastward over the decades.

Do we know how dangerous Zika virus is?

We have not seen a virus cause these sort of abnormalities in children in 60 years. Even when we saw it the last time, it wasn’t on the scale that we’re seeing. So this is quite unprecedented.

What happens when someone who is not pregnant gets the virus?

There are four modes of transmission. The first one is ‘vector born,’ which is just a fancy way of saying a mosquito bite. The second one is mother to child and that is the one that is driving a lot of attention as of late. The third is sexual transmission and it is male to female through any unprotected sex. And the four mode is through blood transfusion.

What does Zika look like?

In 80 percent of people who have it there are no symptoms and in the 20 percent that actually do have symptoms they are generally mild. A fever, rash and in many cases a rash with itching, joint pain, swelling of extremities, usually lower extremities and red eyes, the conjunctivitis.

There are reports that Zika can pose a bigger risk for older people. Is that true?

Generally when you’re dealing with infectious diseases be it brought to you by something that is floating in the air like measles or something brought to you by a mosquito like Zika. Generally what we see are the very young and the very old.

At this point in time, we’re still learning that with Zika. The numbers are all over the place for Brazil, Central America, up through Mexico and into the Caribbean. It seems to be effecting the whole range of a population. It doesn’t seem to be impacting one age group or one group within a total population.

Are we going to see an epidemic here like we’re seeing in Brazil?

That’s the million dollar question because we don’t necessarily have that vector here in our high and dry climate of Nevada but for our southern-most county, Clark County, they’re very close in proximity to states that do have the two types of mosquitos.

Talk about the mosquitos?

We are fortunate to have the high and dry climate of Nevada, but it doesn’t mean we don’t have mosquitos. Our colleague over that the Nevada Department of Agriculture are absolutely great at tracking these trends across our whole state and we do have mosquitos here in Nevada.

The female Aedes aegypti and female Aedes albopictus are the two species most implicated as a primary vector neither of those live here in Nevada. With that being said, due diligence would suggest that we monitor for those.

Does your department need more money to track the mosquitos or the virus?

For now, much of what we’re talking about is being handled within existing systems that we use whether Zika was here or not. We would be doing these sorts of surveillance activities whether Zika was in the mix or not. It is just one of many pathogens we will be monitoring for through our existing systems.

Could see travel being restricted because of the virus?

We’ve looked at past outbreaks when understanding was low and fear was high. We’ve seen that in the past.

If we can get the right message to the right people at the right time, we’re hoping that collectively we can help the public.

Is the media over playing Zika?

For those of us in public health, media is a two-edged sword. But in this case, it’s being a great partner because a lot of people don’t really understand what Zika is, or any threat it might pose to them or their loved ones. So right now, the media has been an indispensable partner, helping us both in public health and our colleagues next door in clinically health.


Dan Mackie, epidemiologist, Nevada 

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