Editorials

California is safer than most from Zika virus

A fumigation brigade sprays an area of Chacabuco Park in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in an attempt to control Aedes mosquitoes. The Zika virus is spread by that type of mosquito.
A fumigation brigade sprays an area of Chacabuco Park in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in an attempt to control Aedes mosquitoes. The Zika virus is spread by that type of mosquito. AP

The warnings from the World Health Organization about the Zika virus are undeniably alarming.

During the next year, as many as 4 million people in the Americas could be exposed to the mosquito-spread virus, which is linked to brain damage in infants and paralysis in adults. Cases have been reported in about two dozen countries, including the United States. Pregnant women are being warned to stay away from certain countries.

But in California, there’s no need to “freak out,” Dr. Jorge Parada, medical adviser for the National Pest Management Association, told The Bee’s Sammy Caiola. At least not yet.

So far, there’s only been one case here – a girl in Los Angeles County who contracted the virus last year while traveling to El Salvador, which, like Brazil, is a hotbed for Zika. She recovered.

Otherwise, public health officials insist it will be hard for the virus, spreading “explosively” elsewhere, to make inroads in California. So try to remember that next week when the WHO convenes an emergency meeting to decide whether to declare a public health emergency.

For California’s relative immunity, we can thank our dry Mediterranean climate. But even more than that, we should thank our state’s robust and comprehensive strategy for pest control.

Most of the time, Californians dismiss efforts to eradicate or merely control the peskiest of insects as an evil that might be necessary, but should be avoided at all costs. This is particularly true when it comes to the spraying of chemicals.

Just last year, for example, a few determined Fair Oaks and Carmichael residents forced state officials to get a warrant just to treat their yards with pesticides. The Department of Food and Agriculture argued the spraying was necessary to beat back Japanese beetles, which have been ravaging trees on the East Coast for years. Residents worried about the health risks.

While these concerns are understandable – after all, no one wants to worry about a pet getting cancer from rolling around in the grass – sometimes such chemical controls are necessary. This is particularly true when paired with vector surveillance and other methods to reduce the population of pests that spread disease.

The insects known for spreading the Zika virus, the striped Aedes mosquitoes, haven’t been spotted in Sacramento or Yolo counties lately. There’s always a chance they could end up here again, though, probably tagging along with someone moving from a southern, more humid state. But local officials say they’re on the lookout.

The sooner the little buggers are gone, the better.

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