Dr. Charity Dean, public health director for Santa Barbara County, was among local health experts discussing the risks of the dreaded Zika virus during a recent forum. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The mosquitos that most commonly carry the dreaded Zika virus are in California, but not Santa Barbara County, according to a team of public health experts. 

Experts from the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, the Mosquito and Vector Management District of Santa Barbara County, Sansum Clinic, Direct Relief International and other health professionals spoke about the risks of the virus locally, at a forum Tuesday night at the Cabrillo Arts Pavilion on Santa Barbara’s waterfront. About 75 people attended.

“The virus has been around a long time, but you didn’t hear about it because it was mostly contained to Africa,” said Dr. Mary Louise Scully, director of the Travel and Tropical Medicine Center at Sansum Clinic.

The Zika virus was discovered in Uganda in 1947, but in early 2015, Brazil began reporting the first local cases of Zika virus, which some medical professionals believe may have exploded during the World Cup in 2014.

The virus quickly spread across South and Central America, and now has rising transmission rates across South and Central Americas and Mexico. 

The virus can cause microcephaly — undersized heads — and brain damage in fetuses.

About two out of 10 people infected with the virus do not display any symptoms, but a fetus can still be affected, according to the public health department. Symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis (red eyes), muscle pain, and headache. 

“When Zika affects a pregnant woman, it can destroy the fetal brain tissue,” said Dr. Alex Soffici, a high-risk obstretrics specialist.

Pregnant women should avoid travel to countries where Zika virus is circulating. Pregnant women whose partner has recently traveled to an area where Zika is present should abstain from sex with that partner, or use a condom for all sex acts, including oral, for the rest of the pregnancy.

The two types of mosquitos that carry the virus are the yellow fever mosquito and the Asian tiger mosquito. The nearest county where they have been found in is Kern County.

In California, there have been 22 travel-associated cases of Zika virus reported, but no mosquito-borne transmissions . One woman, who has not pregnant, contracted the virus through sexual contact in California.

Health experts attempted to ease people’s concerns about the virus and fears that they can get it in Santa Barbara.

“There’s a lot of fear out there,” said Dr. Charity Dean, health officer for the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department. “There’s a lot of bad information we’re trying to correct.”

Soffici said he fields questions everyday from concerned women. He said one of the questions he gets is if a pregnant woman could travel to Hawaii.

“If you are pregnant and you go to Hawaii, don’t have sex with a Polynesian man who is infected with the virus,” Soffici said.

Soffici also said that women can breastfeed their babies even if they have the Zika virus. 

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Joshua Molina

Joshua Molina, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com.