Dr. Melissa Drake
Paul Wellman

Although no cases of the Zika virus have been reported in Santa Barbara County yet, public health officials are on alert given the high frequency of travel between California and Mexico, and the rest of Central America. County Health and Direct Relief hosted a public forum this week to discuss the issue. To date, there are 17 individuals infected in California, all women. The closest any live to Santa Barbara are Kern and Los Angeles counties.

The Zika virus is of special concern because pregnant women who become infected are at risk of giving birth to babies with abnormally small heads ​— microcephaly ​— ​and a host of debilitating complications. Ultrasounds are only 57 percent accurate at detecting microcephaly, said Dr. Melissa Drake, an area ob-gyn. The condition, she said, is detectable at about 18-20 weeks; most states prohibit abortions after 24 weeks except in especially dire circumstances. Because of this, Drake said she expects to see a spike in preemptive precautionary abortions.

The Centers for Disease Control reported there have been nine pregnancies of Zika-infected mothers in the United States; two were aborted, two miscarried, and of the three live births, one was born with extreme microcephaly. Zika can be transmitted sexually, but only from male to female. Drake and other experts caution that males returning from the Zika Zone ​— ​Mexico to Paraguay ​— ​should wear condoms while engaging in sexual activities for six months upon their return.

In Santa Barbara, the Mosquito and Vector Management District has set out traps to determine whether Zika-infected mosquitoes ​— ​Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus ​— ​have arrived. To date, the traps have not caught any. District manager David Chang reported an unusually low number of mosquitos turning up in the traps. He attributed that to the drought; mosquitos need stagnant pools of still water to lay their eggs


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