Aedes aegypti, a species of mosquito that can transmit Zika virus, has been identified in Otero and Hidalgo counties, according to the state Department of Health and New Mexico State University. There have been no identified human cases of Zika virus in either county to date.
Zika virus can be transmitted to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito, according to a news release from state officials. The mosquitoes become infected when they feed on a person already infected with the virus. Infected mosquitoes can then spread the virus to other people through bites.
Ten cases of Zika virus disease were reported in New Mexico in 2016, according to state statistics. In each case, the patients were travelers. They were infected abroad and diagnosed after they returned home. Residents traveling out of the country this summer should be concerned about Zika transmission, especially women who are pregnant, as Zika infection during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains a list of countries with active Zika virus transmission on its website.
Mosquito surveillance in New Mexico's southern counties is part of an ongoing collaboration between NMDOH and NMSU to map out the range and distribution of both Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus in the state. These recent discoveries bring the total number of counties in the state with mosquitoes capable of spreading Zika to eight. Aedes aegypti mosquitoes have been trapped and identified in Doña Ana, Eddy, Chaves, Sierra, Lea, Luna and now Otero and Hidalgo counties. The same has been done with Aedes albopictus in Roosevelt County.
"While we have been fortunate to this point that we have not had local mosquito-borne transmission of Zika virus in New Mexico, tracking the areas at risk for Zika allows us to prepare and educate New Mexicans about prevention based on where they live," said Department of Health Cabinet Secretary Lynn Gallagher.
The best way to prevent Zika is to prevent mosquito bites. Mosquitoes typically lay eggs in and near standing water in containers, such as old tires, buckets, bowls, animal dishes, flower pots and vases.
To avoid Zika and other mosquito-borne viruses, such as West Nile virus, health officials recommend the following steps:
• Remove any standing water that may be found in flower pots, bird baths, old tires, bottle caps or other small containers, then scrub out the containers to remove any mosquito eggs.
• Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
• Stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
• Use Environmental Protection Agency-registered insect repellents.
For more information about Zika virus, visit nmhealth.org/about/erd/ideb/zdp/zika.