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CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden talks about the Zika virus with NewsChannel 5's Tory Dunnan

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Posted at 1:00 PM, Aug 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-18 18:56:01-04

News Channel 5's Tory Dunnan interviewed CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden about the Zika virus.

Tory: People really want more understanding about how Zika spreads. If someone has the Zika virus and then say gets bitten by the type of mosquito that carries Zika, does that mosquito then become a source of a local transmission?

Dr. Frieden: This is a mosquito-borne virus. It can be spread by sexual transmission. We’ve seen that in a couple dozen cases in the US. But the main way it spreads is Aedes aegypti mosquito. This is a really difficult mosquito to control and exactly as you say, if someone who has the infection- whether or not they have symptoms- gets bitten by this mosquito, about a week later it then can spread it to other people that it bites. These mosquitoes can then bite four or five people in one blood meal. So unfortunately they are very efficient at spreading the disease.

Tory: So it takes about a week to be able to transmit it?

Dr. Frieden: That’s correct.

Tory: How long is that mosquito then able to transmit it? Does it pass onto their eggs if they lay them?

Dr. Frieden: We think it’s very rare if at all that it passes them along from the mosquito to the larva. But the mosquito infection can remain infectious biting people for a week or two. So it is a very difficult mosquito to control. Even where there are very low rates of numbers of mosquitoes, we’ve seen a spread of dengue. That’s why it’s so important that there is a community-wide effort to combat standing water to install or repair screens and use air conditioning and to reduce the larval and adult populations. This isn’t something one person can do it takes the whole community. That takes resources. That’s why it’s so important that Congress acts now to provide us with the resources we need to support states and communities to improve mosquito control activities.

Tory: What’s the message to pregnant women here in South Florida? Doctors- some of them have been saying- make sure you stay inside in the air conditioning. If you have to go inside, wear long sleeves, mosquito repellent with Deet. In South Florida, how realistic is it to go outside with long sleeves if you are pregnant?

Dr. Frieden: We and the state of Florida recommend that if you are pregnant- that they not visit the one mile area around the transmission zone of Wynwood or not going to countries where Zika is spreading and stay tuned in case there are other areas that are flagged for potentially (being) at risk. For women who are in those areas and elsewhere, avoiding mosquito bites is really important. It’s hard. Long sleeves may be difficult to wear but anywhere there is exposed skin, apply an insect repellent approved or registered by the FDA such as one containing Deet; look carefully at the instructions. That may need to be reapplied two or three times a day to everywhere that’s not covered, especially the legs and ankles. That’s where these mosquitoes like to bite. If you can stay indoors in an air conditioned space, we know that greatly reduces your risk of getting bitten.

Tory: Talk to us about the most effective strategy to combat Zika?

Dr. Frieden: There is no one magic bullet for fighting Zika. We need ways to protect pregnant women. We need ways to reduce the mosquito population, and we need new tools. Ultimately we hope to have a vaccine but that’s at least a couple of years away so in the meantime we are going to need to do everything in our power as a community, as a country to stop the mosquito and protect pregnant women. The key here is reducing the risk to pregnant women and that means reducing their chance of getting bitten by an infected mosquito. Men also have a role to play. If men have traveled to an area where the mosquitoes have Zika then they need to use a condom during the pregnancy of their partner

Tory: Talk to us about what’s happening in the school system here- basically there have been some indoor reassignments for pregnant women; in some areas uniforms that have long sleeves have been handed out. Do you think they are taking enough precautions here in South Florida when it comes to protecting kids, teachers, staff?

Dr. Frieden: This is a very difficult mosquito to control. Our focus has to be to protect pregnant women and so if pregnant women are in an area where Zika transmission is present, such as they Wynwood area, then we need to look at ways to get there risk as close to zero as possible. For schools, I know they are thinking about improving the screens, reassigning people but the key here is to focus on protecting pregnancies. That’s the goal in the fight against Zika.

Tory: Currently the department of health here in Florida offers that free Zika testing for pregnant women, but not necessarily for husbands and spouses. Do you think that’s a smart strategy moving forward or do you suspect that could change?

Dr. Frieden: It’s important that people who have symptoms of Zika are tested for Zika. That’s something that we and Florida promote. We don’t recommend testing of partners because we don’t have a definitive test. A positive test may not help you a negative test may not help you. So partners of pregnant women we are not recommending testing at this point. The key is use a condom

Tory: What about the lag time between say a pregnant woman goes to get tested and then say two or three weeks- I don’t know the exact time- passes before she gets the results? Is that test even accurate then because anything could of happened?

Dr. Frieden: If a woman is living in an area where Zika is continuing to spread then she will need to be tested periodically, at least twice during the course of pregnancy

Tory:  We’ve heard some reports here in Palm Beach County and I don’t know if you can speak to this or not- that there is a backlog on the free Zika testing at the health department. That it could be a couple days- it could be a couple of months. That the only alternative is then to pay for that testing at a lab. What would you recommend that a pregnant woman does? Does she have to get this done in the first trimester? If she’s, say, been to Miami and lives here in West Palm Beach or wherever.

Dr. Frieden: So I can’t comment on the specific situation there but the tests are available. The CDC laboratories have made more than a million test kits available to more than a hundred labs throughout the U.S. and a hundred countries around the world. There are different types of Zika tests. They don’t come back right away it takes a few days to get them done in a laboratory and if you are getting them drawn at your doctor and sent to the health department there can be a few week delay in getting those tests sent. But for pregnant women who are living in an area where Zika may be spreading—that’s the main risk. That’s the main priority. Pregnant women or others with symptoms of Zika, that’s the priority and getting those tests done rapidly and actively is a priority for all of us.

Tory: Real quick. Do we know how bad the situation is at this point?

Dr. Frieden: We know this is a very challenging virus to control the mosquito is hard to control.