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Officials scramble to squashZika-carrying mosquito

Jenny Barchfield
Associated Press

Rio De Janeiro – — With no hope for a vaccine to prevent Zika in the near future, authorities are focusing on the most effective way to combat the virus: killing the mosquito that carries it.

Fumigation is one method; another is seeking out and draining standing water where the insect lays its eggs. Other strategies are possible, including larvae-devouring fish, genetically modified insects and even lasers.

But officials agree that it won’t be easy.

The battle is focused on Aedes aegypti, a formidable foe. It carries not only Zika, but other diseases like dengue, yellow fever and chikunguya. Well adapted to humans, it lives largely inside homes and can lay eggs in even a bottle-cap’s worth of stagnant water. The dishes beneath potted plants are a favorite spot, as are abandoned tires, bird feeders and even the little puddles of rainwater that collect in the folds of plastic tarps.

“This mosquito really is a bear to deal with,” said Thomas Scott, professor of entomology and epidemiology at the University of California, Davis. “It’s almost like a cockroach of the mosquito world.”

Scientists are also trying to determine if, and how easily, Zika could be spread by sex or by blood transfusions. But the virus is usually transmitted through mosquito bites.

Two people in southeastern Brazil contracted the Zika virus through blood transfusions, a municipal health official said Thursday, presenting a fresh challenge to efforts to contain the virus.

The two unrelated cases in Brazil may be the first of people contracting Zika via blood transfusions in the current outbreak, though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with other health bodies, have said that Zika could be spread via blood transfusions.

That concern led the U.S. Red Cross to announce that it is asking travelers to Zika outbreak countries to wait at least 28 days before donating blood. Canadian officials said that people who have traveled outside of Canada, the continental United States and Europe won’t be able to give blood for 21 days after their return.

Zika virus link

The Zika virus, first discovered decades ago in Africa, was long thought to be mostly a nuisance illness, with mild symptoms such as fever and a rash. A particular species of mosquito is spreading Zika rapidly through Latin America, where Brazil has reported a surge in suspected cases of microcephaly, a birth defect.

That’s circumstantial evidence, and Brazil is trying to sort out just how many babies have microcephaly and how many of their mothers had Zika during pregnancy.