La Plata, MD – The year 2016 will no doubt be remembered as the start of the United States’ concern about a disease first discovered in Uganda nearly 70 years ago.

Zika virus is closely related to such maladies as yellow fever, dengue fever and West Nile virus. The biggest concern is the threat it poses to a soon-to-be-born child whose mother has been infected by it.

“If it did not cause birth defects it would not be a big problem,” said Dr. Howard Haft, a Charles County physician who is currently serving as Maryland’s deputy secretary for Public Health.

Haft was the guest speaker at the Charles County Medical Society’s April meeting at the county government building in La Plata.

Haft is leading Maryland’s effort to stop Zika from becoming a public health threat. He explained the small turnout of doctors that Zika became prominent in Brazil last year. All of the confirmed cases of Zika in the United States have been traveled-related, Haft said.

State data shows that as of April 27, there have been 12 confirmed Zika infections in Maryland.

A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) fact sheet indicates women who are either pregnant or planning to become pregnant and planning to travel abroad need to be aware of the Zika virus and the special precautions that need to be taken.

“Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito,” CDC officials stated. “These mosquitoes are aggressive daytime biters. They can also bite at night.”

Zika is hard to diagnose. Its symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain and an eye inflammation known as “conjunctivitis.”

Haft (pictured, above) stated pregnant women who have traveled to affected areas—such as South America—warrant Zika testing, regardless of whether they have symptoms. While the fetus remains vulnerable to Zika throughout the pregnancy, diagnosing a Zika-related birth defect in an unborn child cannot be done until the pregnancy is well along, said Haft. Health officials are urging the monitoring vulnerable babies after birth since a definite diagnosis of a birth defect cannot be made immediately.

Maryland officials are also preparing to fight the enemy in the War on Zika. “Battle lines are drawn to get rid of the mosquitoes,” Haft said, who explained the Maryland Department of Agriculture would be handling the eradication.

According to CDC officials, “only two known species of mosquitoes spread Zika, out of 176 species of mosquitoes identified in the U.S.

State and federal officials are urging property owners to “mosquito-proof” their homes. Proactive measures include using screens on windows and doors, repairing holes in screens to keep mosquitoes out, emptying and scrubbing items holding water, such as tires, buckets, planters, toys, pools, birdbaths, flowerpots and trash containers.

Health officials also urge the public to use insect repellant—Haft identified DEET as the most effective—treat clothing and gear with permethrin and even covering baby cribs, strollers and baby carriers with mosquito netting.

To thwart the possibility of transmitting Zika sexually, couples are urged to “check CDC travel guidance. Pregnant women should avoid travel to any area with Zika.” Couples are also urged to “use latex condoms, the right way, every time or choose not have any type of sex if the male partner has been in an area with Zika during the pregnancy.”

Haft told the local medical society he will be traveling to all of Maryland’s jurisdictions to outline the state’s Zika strategy.

Charles County Health Officer Dr. Dianna Abney told society members the local health office plans to provide information about mosquito control to area nurseries and garden specialists. “We are talking to everyone,” said Abney. “We are going to protect everyone as much as possible from mosquito bites.”

One doctor in the audience expressed concerns that some patients who consult primary care physicians might “over-react” to skin rashes. He added that he was also concerned there might be an increase in questionable products with manufacturers’ claims they can treat or cure Zika virus. To date, there is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat Zika.

Haft said currently there is Zika testing available at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s public health laboratory but no commercial testing for Zika at this time.

To find out more information about the Zika virus, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s web site at

For a current list of places with Zika outbreaks, visit CDC’s Travel Health Notices page at

Contact Marty Madden at