Should Tucsonans worry about Zika?

Aedes aegypti mosquito is a non-native mosquito species in Arizona. It is no larger than 7 meters and has small white specks on its legs. (Photos courtesy of Michael Riehle from the University of Arizona Department of Entomology.)
Aedes aegypti mosquito is a non-native mosquito species in Arizona. It is no larger than 7 millimeters and has small white specks on its legs. (Photos courtesy of Michael Riehle from the University of Arizona Department of Entomology.)

It’s a hot summer day. The morning doves are cooing and the sun beats down on a slight breeze. Water sits still at the bottom of trays under ceramic pots filled with flowers and plants. Pinch, swat, slap. A small itchy red bump outlined with flushed skin is what the mosquito leaves after its bite.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito lives and harasses Tusconans during the warm, wet summer months. This mosquito is responsible for carrying and spreading four diseases including the Zika virus, which was reported as a public health emergency by the World Health Organization in February 2016.

Although the Aedes mosquito is found in Arizona, there have been no cases of Zika, as of late March 2016. The Maricopa County Department of Public Health and the Arizona Department of Health Services reported a woman from Maricopa County had acquired the Zika virus from international travel.

Do Tucsonans Need to Fear the Zika?

“Certainly we want people taking general precautions from receiving mosquito bites,” says Kacey Ernst, a University of Arizona epidemiologist who studies mosquito-borne diseases. However, she explained that if there were no mosquito bites by a Zika infected mosquito, then there would be no risk of Zika being in the area.

The United States has reported 312 travel-associated Zika virus disease cases and zero locally acquired cases. Of the 312 cases, 27 were pregnant women. Out of the 50 states, 41 states have reported an outbreak of the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The Aedes mosquito is not native to Arizona. However, it has found a home in urban and suburban neighborhoods in Southern Arizona in recent decades. It thrives in cluttered places in the backyards of homes, only traveling 500 yards from its hatching site.

“The possibility is here,” says Chris Schmidt, a University of Arizona graduate research assistant and co-author of a study completed with Ernst. “But the population is just not large enough in Arizona compared to other southern states.”

What Precautions Can Tucsonans Take?

With the coming of summer monsoon season, Tucsonans should take precautions if they want to avoid the risk of tracking the Zika virus.

First, begin by having a well sealed home. Inspect window screens for holes or cracked windows. Small open spaces allow for mosquitoes to move inside the home and lay eggs.

Pots where mosquitos can multiply. (Photo by: Alexandra Adamson/El Independiente)
Pots where mosquitoes can multiply.

Second, empty all plant trays filled with standing water. If a dog bowl is left with water, change the water daily. After dumping out standing water, wipe down the tray or bowl with a cloth, this will capture any larva that was left behind.

Third, cover up and protect skin from mosquito bites. Wear clothing that covers skin, such as long sleeve shirts, pants, a bandana for the neck and long socks for legs. Outside, use a repellent such as DEET, which has been approved safe for even pregnant women and children.

The University of Arizona through a partnership with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Skoll Global Threats Fund is developing an app called Kidenga. The app is a mobile surveillance system that allows users to detect symptoms for Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya. It is scheduled to be released early this summer, Ernst says.

Diseases Carried and Spread by Aedes Aegypti Mosquito


The Zika virus is spread through a bite from an infected Aedes mosquito. Symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis or pink eye. Zika declared a public health emergency in February 2016 by the World Health Organization. Many people infected with the virus are unaware and there is no vaccine currently available to treat the virus.

Yellow Fever

The yellow fever virus is found in tropical and subtropical areas in South America and Africa. Symptoms can range from a fever to severe liver disease and bleeding. The virus is rare in the United States.

Dengue Fever

Dengue virus is related to yellow fever and the West Nile infection. Around 390 million dengue infections occur worldwide each year in tropical areas of the world. Symptoms include fever, headaches, pain behind the eyes and muscle pain. No vaccine is available.

Chikungunya (chik-en-gun-ye)

Outbreaks of chikungunya virus have been found in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Indian and Pacific Oceans. There is no vaccine or medicine to treat the virus.

Information on them can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website:


Alexandra Adamson is a reporter for El Independiente, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at

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