Local health experts believe S.C. mosquitoes will eventually spread Zika

Health experts in South Carolina believe mosquitoes in this state will probably contract the Zika virus at some point.

Following Friday’s announcement that mosquitoes in South Florida have likely acquired the Zika virus, a spokesman for the South Carolina health department acknowledged that insects in the Palmetto State may eventually spread the disease here, too.

“There is a chance that some species could one day transmit the virus in our local communities,” said Robert Yanity, a spokesman for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. “That is why we have been preparing and implementing our Zika action plan for months.”

In fact, Dwight Williams, a local entomologist, said the possibility that mosquitoes in South Carolina will acquire the virus is “very likely.”

“In this case, it’s probably going to travel with people, coming into the state who are infected and then passing it along to the mosquito,” Williams said.

The Zika virus is primarily transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which lives in South Carolina and in several other states. The virus poses the greatest threat to pregnant women.

Infants exposed to it in the womb will more likely develop microcephaly, an often-fatal condition that prevents a baby’s skull from fully forming.

“You’re talking about babies born with severe learning disabilities,” said Dr. Amy Miller, a North Charleston OB-GYN.

None of the mosquitoes in South Carolina are thought to carry the virus yet. Still, the American Red Cross began testing all donations in this state for Zika earlier this summer. In March, the organization also added a question to its donor health history form about travel to Zika-prone parts of the world.

“We continue to ask donors to self-defer, or postpone their blood donation for four weeks, if they are at risk of Zika virus exposure,” Susan Stramer, vice president of scientific affairs at the Red Cross, said in a prepared statement.

In South Carolina, 25 patients have tested positive for the Zika virus. Twenty four of them acquired the virus overseas. One patient, whose partner was infected during a trip outside the country, contracted the virus sexually.

None of the infected patients in this state are pregnant.

Miller said she worries most about all the unknowns.

For example, she said, it’s still unclear when pregnant women are most susceptible to the virus’s dangerous side effects. Initial data suggest that infants in utero are more vulnerable during the early stage of pregnancy.

“At this point the CDC is working very hard to understand that data, but we don’t know,” she said. “It’s concerning because we don’t have vaccines.”

Reach Lauren Sausser at 843-937-5598.