Class of 2016 joins ranks of Blue Devil alumni

The 100th commencement in the history of Unicoi County High School was held on Monday, May 23, in the school’s gymnasium. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

The 100th commencement in the history of Unicoi County High School was held on Monday, May 23, in the school’s gymnasium. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

A milestone in the lives of the members of the Unicoi County High School class of 2016 coincided with a landmark in the county’s history.

As the seniors celebrated graduation from high school, the school celebrated its 100th commencement ceremony on Monday, May 23. In recognition of this anniversary, senior Noah Wagner presented a brief history of Erwin High.

“I know you came here today to graduate without having to sit through any more lessons,” Wagner said to his classmates, “but I want to give you a history lesson of this school. … In 1916, the county purchased the Unaka Academy boarding school to open a high school, middle school and an elementary school. Grades one through 12 were all in the same school.”

Wagner said the Unaka Academy was located near where Gentry Stadium stands today.

“In 1922, the first football team took to the field and we played Washington College,” he continued. “We beat them 84-0. … The following year, we played Greeneville High School and we beat them 120-0. …

“With a thriving economy and a growing population, we outgrew that school and a new high school, located where the middle school is now, was built in 1929.”

Seventy years later, Wagner said, another new high school was needed. This building, which is the current home of UCHS, opened to students in 1999.

“There has been 100 years of history, 100 years of students and 100 years of change,” he added, “but, what hasn’t changed is the mission and vision of this school. The faculty and staff strive to receive scholastic excellence from the students … They strive to provide students with the necessary skills to have an impact on society. …

“When you step out of this building today, remember who you are, where you came from and the legacy you are a part of,” Wagner said. “You will always and forever be a Unicoi County Blue Devil.”

Also part of the 100th anniversary celebration, UCHS alumni from as early as 1940 were recognized by Dr. Chris Bogart, UCHS principal. Among them were: Judy Moss and George Hatcher, both of the class of 1940; Jim Crowder and Dalton Gouge, of the class of 1942; Isabell Crowder Jones of the class of 1944; Jack Jones from the class of 1946; and Nancy DeArmond Gentry of the class of 1948 and a former teacher at UCHS.

The class of 2016 also heard from Director of Schools John English during the ceremony.

“Make sure you never let anyone or anything stand in the way of you achieving what you want to achieve,” English said. “I am looking forward to watching this class in the coming years and see all that you will accomplish. …

“Just because you are officially finished with (the Unicoi County School System) tonight as a graduate, I know many of you will move forward and will not look back and we understand that. But, make sure you understand this, on your path and on your journey to wherever you’re headed, if Unicoi County Schools or myself can ever support you in any way on that path, we will. You may be finished with us, but we are never finished with you,” English continued.

Panel OKs insurance premium increase

By Curtis Carden

With a July 1 health insurance enrollment deadline looming, Unicoi County employees can expect an increase to the cost of health coverage – for the time being.

During the county’s Employee Benefits/Insurance/Policy Committee meeting on Monday, May 16, officials approved the Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBST) renewal for 2016-17 and to bring it before the Unicoi County Commission for approval on Monday, May 23.

Insurance claims near the end of the recent fiscal year led to an increase of 10.8 percent in the cost of insurance for 2016-17.

“Things were steady for the start of the year,” John Manfull, with Mark III Employee Benefits and the county’s insurance broker, said. “Towards the end of the year, there were significant claims at the end of the year that brought the increase.”

BCBST offered the most competitive rates, according to Manfull.

According to information provided at the meeting, the BCBST Plan 1 for low-deductible individual plans would move from $13.57 to $69.15 a month; while the family low-deductible plans would shift from $873.43 to $1,018.22 monthly.

For Plan 2, for high-deductible plans, individual plans would remain at no cost; while family plans would bump up from $510.30 to $656.12 a month.

Manfull told everyone in attendance that the county is currently capped at paying $520 for employee premiums, but could vote to increase that payment to help defer the cost from employees.

A spreadsheet at the meeting showed three different options:

• Option 1 featured the county not increasing the $520, which would not increase the amount paid by the county.

• Option 2 considered increasing the amount paid for employee premiums to $540, which would lower the potential cost of individual coverage to $49.15 and trimming the family coverage to $636.12. Option 2 would cost the county an extra $25,440.

• Option 3 would include the county paying $550 for individual low- and high-deductible coverage, while paying $595 for family coverage. Option 3 would cost an extra $40,860.

“We’re not going to know how much money we have until the books close in June,” Commissioner Gene Wilson said about the county potentially paying more for employees’ coverage.

“We want to do what we can to absorb the cost for the employees,” Commissioner Glenn White said, “but we don’t know how much money we’re going to have to do anything.”

The topic of funds being available from the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department due the department expected to receive revenue from the $650,000 projected from state inmates to help offset costs was passed along by Commissioner John Mosley. The comment was followed by White asking Sheriff Mike Hensley, who was in attendance Monday, about recent findings during a jail committee meeting mentioning the department netted only $20,000 from inmates.

“We’ve had further studies show that it’s more than what was discussed,” Hensley said. “I don’t have it with me for this meeting, but there were a lot of variables that went into place.”

Hensley added that while he didn’t envy the job of commissioners working on the budget with the shape the county is in, he said the county needs to do something for the county employees.

“I understand the financial situation we’re in, but we need to take care of our employees,” Hensley said. “I’m just speaking for my department, but I’ve lost nine good officers due to benefits. I know it would be hard for other employees to pay these increases.”

While the county is looking to potentially absorb costs, White added that if the funds aren’t available the county would either have to raise taxes or have the employees pay the increase.

“We’ve lost jobs,” Commissioner Kenneth Garland said. “We have citizens that are on social security and some that don’t even have health insurance. I was elected to take care of the taxpayers and that’s what I’m going to do. There’s not going to be a tax increase as far as I’m concerned.”

While discussing options for incentives, Manfull said that high-deductible plans could include a health savings plan for employees, which would allow the county to deposit the $520 currently for employees.

Health care has been a hot topic for the county following up the 2015-2016 budget talks. Working with a $400,000 shortfall, the county eliminated the extra premium match for family insurance. That item was put in place during the 2014-2015 budget year instead of employee pay raises.

The vote to do away with the premium match was at the end of the previous fiscal year and increased monthly premiums for the high/low deductible family insurance from less than $300 to over $850.

In a recent article by the Johnson City press documenting the last Employee Benefits/Insurance/Policy Committee meeting, it was reported that Patty Treadway, county human resources and payroll administrator, told the committee that only five or six county employees have historically carried family except for the two years that the county increased the premium match. The number increased to 18 employees while five county employees have family insurance.

Sarah Bailey, administrator of elections in the county, was on hand during Monday’s meeting. She takes part in county’s current family health coverage and added she would be impacted by the increase which could go into effect for the upcoming year.

Bailey added that the second plan offered BCBST would be a suitable option for employees with family insurance, if the right incentives were in place to have employees take the plan.

Tankersley wins national title

Nolan Tankersley, center, came away with two national championships during the annual USA Cycling Championships held over the weekend in North Carolina. Tankersley is a cyclist for ETSU and the Pro Lupus Racing Team. (Contributed photo)

Nolan Tankersley, center, came away with two national championships during the annual USA Cycling Championships held over the weekend in North Carolina. Tankersley is a cyclist for ETSU and the Pro Lupus Racing Team.
(Contributed photo)

From the Valley Beautiful and around the country, Nolan Tankersley has seen his fair share of success on the roadways.

The Unicoi County native and East Tennessee State University cyclist added another notch to his belt by earning two first place finishes in the USA Cycling National Collegiate Championship Road Race and Criterium held in North Carolina May 13 and 14.

“It was the best days of my cycling career,” Nolan told The Erwin Record on Monday, May 16. “Finishing the race and seeing my family and friends cheering me on at the finish line … I was fighting back tears.”

Nolan, along with his brother, Connor, have been on the forefront of helping the cycling scene expand locally. The home turf atmosphere, along with seeing support come for himself and other local riders over the weekend continues to show the growth of cycling in the area, Nolan said.

“My fifth grade teacher was there for the event,” he said. “It’s great to see how much cycling has grown and what it has turned into over the years.”

Nolan’s journey is one that can’t be made up. Following graduation from Unicoi County High School, Tankersley took his talents to Milligan College and aided the program by contributing to the awards won by the team.

Things didn’t stop during his time with the Buffaloes. Nolan continued his collegiate cycling career by transferring to ETSU this past year, which added an extra level of stress.

“Milligan was a recognized varsity program,” Nolan said. “Coming over to ETSU, it was more of a club team. I was put into a director position with the group, talking with teammates and other people to help grow the program. It added an extra level of pressure, but it all pays off in the end.”

Those leadership qualities and level of maturity have netted Nolan gains over the years. After taking home the Slow Ride Omnium in Johnson City in 2015, Tankersley joined Lupus Racing, a UCI Continental team, for his first year as a professional racer.

The busy attitude helped prepare Nolan for the event, he said.

“I was finishing up a race in New Mexico,” Nolan added. “I don’t want to sound egotistical, but I was feeling good after that race. I knew I was in a right spot heading into the national championships.”

Even with a burst of confidence, the day of winning the road race brought a level of anxiousness, he said.

“There’s always that bit of nervousness,” Nolan added. “You’re sitting there before the race, sizing everybody up and going through the mind games. You’re thinking about what you need to do to win.”

The road race brought its fair share of ups and downs, literally. Tankersley was able to make some headway heading into the final stretch by bursting out of the gates on a downhill slope. While discussing the race, Tankersley highlighted the accomplishments of friends Jake King and Johnny Mitchell – who ride with Liberty University and Milligan College, respectively.

But with the jockeying of position going on, Nolan saw the finish line and checked behind him to see how the competition faired.

“The rider that was behind me was checking out the field,” he said. “At that point, I knew it was do-or-die and push to the finish line.”

After the excitement from the weekend, Tankersley said that it was time for a cool down. As far as the months to come, the busy schedule kick back soon resumes.

“There will be a lot of races … a lot of them,” he added. “As far as school goes, I’m looking into heading to King University next year. It will be an experience with them being more of a varsity program. I’m excited to see what’s to come.”

Tankersley will be back racing locally when he defends his Omnium win on June 4 and 5 in Johnson City in the SweetWater IPA Omnium. The first event takes place in Elizabethton. Other races include the Mountains at the Tour of Gila in May and then the Tupelo Honey Time Trial in Erwin, which could qualify Tankersley for the Omnium at Fountain Square Criterium in Johnson City.

Camping prohibited due to bear activity

From Staff Reports

U.S. Forest Service officials at the Cherokee National Forest recently announced that camping in the Clarks Creek area of the Unaka Ranger District will be temporarily closed due to black bear activity in the area. Day-use activities including fishing, horseback riding and hiking are still permitted.

Clarks Creek is a Cherokee National Forest dispersed use area located on National Forest System Road 25 in Washington and Unicoi counties. Access to Clarks Creek is from State Route 107 approximately 13 miles east of Greeneville.

Black bears are opportunists and become habituated to areas where food and trash has been improperly discarded or stored and is easily available.

Visitors are reminded to:

  • Never feed bears or leave pet food out;
  • Never approach a bear – they are wild animals;
  • Never leave food unattended;
  • Do not discard any food scraps on the ground or in streams;
  • Store food in a vehicle or other secure place when not in use;
  • Clean up and carry trash out when departing.

More safety information is available at: http://fs.usda.gov/r8.

Keeping an area clean and free of trash and food can greatly reduce the chances of encounters with bears. Never feed bears or leave pet food out where bears have access to.  Your cooperation with these simple tips can help break the cycle of bears returning to the same area in search of human food, protecting you and the bears.

For more information about safety around bears visit the Outdoor Safety in the South website at: http://fs.usda.gov/r8

For local national forest information call the Unaka Ranger Station at 638-4109.

Chamber announces Triple Threat

TripleThreatlogoRedFinal

From Staff Reports

The Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce is excited to announce that the 2nd Annual Nolichucky Triple Threat Obstacle Course race will take place on Saturday, Aug. 27 in Erwin. The Triple Threat, designed to challenge the most enthusiastic competitor, is the only event of its kind that begins on the churning white waters of the Nolichucky River and finishes with a trail run just steps from the acclaimed Appalachian Trail.

“With the growing popularity of obstacle course racing challenges across the country, last year the Chamber of Commerce saw a unique opportunity to coordinate the Nolichucky Triple Threat in Erwin,” said Amanda Delp, Chamber of Commerce executive director. “The Chamber’s initial vision for this event was to create a competitive adventure like no other that would utilize and showcase the county’s two major recreational anchors – the Nolichucky River and the Appalachian Trail. The phenomenal success of the event last year ensured the growth for an even larger event this year.”

The Nolichucky Triple Threat will begin at USA Raft, located at 2 Jones Branch Road, Erwin, where participants will tame the whitewaters of the Nolichucky River in the watercraft of their choice including either a raft, kayak or bellyak. Once they make the 1.5 mile trek down the Noli, they will emerge on a sandy beach shore where the timing portion of the event will begin.

Once participants cross the starting line, they will immediately enter the obstacle challenge course in which they will test their strength and agility on 18 adventurous obstacles including a sand crawl under barbed wire, water walk through, balance beam, monkey bars, tire drag and much more.

Upon completion of the obstacle course, Triple Threat participants will then begin the third segment of the event – the 5K race back to USA Raft. Racers will run on Temple Hill Road to River Road where they will race alongside the Nolichucky River for a section of the race. Then for the last steps of the race, participants will battle trail terrain where they will complete the run back to their final obstacle before crossing the finish line.

“Where agility rafts whitewater, where strength challenges obstacles and where endurance hikes mountains, the Triple Threat is the only event that keeps participants screaming ‘I will not quit, I will not fail, I will compete Nolichucky Style’,” added Delp. “Last year’s event sparked national interest and we are confident that this year’s event will only continue to capture more national attention and ultimately evolve into a highly sought after event attracting competitors from across the U.S.”

Registration for the Nolichucky Triple Threat is available online at www.nolitriplethreat.com. Registration is $45 per participant through July 25. Registration between July 26 and Aug. 26 is $65 and day of registration is $85.

The first 25 registered participants will receive a free “I am training for the Nolichucky Triple Threat” T-shirt. All registered participants will receive a free event completion T-shirt on race day.

For more information about the Nolichucky Triple Threat, call the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce at 743-3000 or visit the website at www.nolitriplethreat.com.

Republicans to discuss candidate for assessor on May 28

By Keeli Parkey

In a meeting notice sent to The Erwin Record and other media outlets on Thursday, May 5, the Unicoi County Republican Party announced that its Executive Committee will meet on Saturday, May 28, at 9 a.m. in the large courtroom of the Unicoi County Courthouse.

The purpose of the meeting is to address the placement of a candidate for Unicoi County Assessor of Property on the ballot in the Aug. 4 General Election.

The need to appoint a candidate for the August ballot was created after Margaret Seward, who died the morning of the March 1 primary, won the race for assessor of property in the county primary.

Wayne Peterson, another candidate on the primary ballot in the assessor’s race, died on Feb. 16. Alan “Rocky” McInturff was the third candidate on the ballot.

Jim Buchanan, chairman of the Unicoi County Republican Party Executive Committee, said the meeting is open to the public.

“The public is invited to come and observe,” Buchanan said, “but, this is not a county convention. This is a meeting of the Executive Committee that will act as a primary board. It is being done according to law.”

The Executive Committee was scheduled to address the vacancy on March 19; however, that meeting was canceled after the Tennessee Republican Party expressed concerns about the process for selecting a candidate, according to Jim Buchanan, chairman of the Unicoi County Republican Party Executive Committee.

“Brent Leatherwood (executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party) called me and advised us to cancel the meeting,” Buchanan said at the time.

Buchanan went on to say that the party was awaiting an opinion from the Tennessee Attorney General regarding the composition of the Executive Committee. One issue, according to Buchanan was whether or not Tennessee Republican Party Executive Committeeman Kent Harris and Committeewoman Sarah Sellers, both of whom serve Unicoi, Washington and Carter counties, could vote on the appointment of a candidate. Buchanan said this issue has been resolved.

“We are not electing anyone,” he said. “We are choosing someone to go on the ballot for the people to elect.”

With June 15, the deadline for individuals to qualify as write-in candidates on the Aug. 4 ballot, approaching, Buchanan said he urged the state party to allow the Executive Committee to meet. The decision to move forward with the meeting was made last week, he said.

The Erwin Record previously reported that the Unicoi County Election Commission convened on March 17 and the five-member panel unanimously certified the results of the primary. The panel includes Tom Reeves, Paul Monk, Roland Bailey, Marvin Rogers and Bill Beckman.

“When someone passes away and wins, you still certify whoever the winner is that was on the ballot and it effectively, immediately becomes a vacancy at that position,” Administrator of Elections Sarah Bailey said during the March 17 meeting. “If this was a general election, the vacancy would be filled by the County Commission; however, since this is a primary election, state law says the party has the right to choose the candidate.”

Election Commission members then reviewed a letter Bailey received from Tennessee Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins.

This letter states: “… when a party candidate dies, Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-13-204(a) allows the party who has lost its candidate to make a new nomination authorized by Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-13-203. According to Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-13-203(a)(1), a political parties may nominate candidates ‘by any method authorized under the rules of the party or by primary election under this title’.”

Also according to Goins’ letter, the party is not required to nominate a candidate for the Aug. 4 ballot.

“If the party chooses not to exercise its rights under the statute, the ballot will indicate that no candidate has qualified for the office of Assessor of Property,” Goings writes. “Realize that, in either event, Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-7-133 (i) allows a person to file a certificate of write-in candidacy no later than noon, prevailing time, the 50th day before the election. This deadline falls on June 15, 2016, at noon.”

• • •

Peterson was appointed by the Unicoi County Commission to serve as assessor of property in April 2015 following the retirement of the previous assessor Patsy Bennett.

Following Peterson’s death, the Commission appointed Teresa Kinsler as the interim assessor of property at its March meeting. Kinsler has filed papers to appear as a write-in candidate for the position on the Aug. 4 ballot.

Safety Town course returns

By Keeli Parkey

For the third year, the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce will offer Safety Town – an education program for children ages 4-8.

According to Chamber Executive Director Amanda Delp, the class is an interactive and comprehensive education program that introduces awareness and preventive procedures through discussions, role playing, walks, games, songs and artwork. The curriculum being discussed will include stranger danger, internet safety, fire safety, bike safety, water safety, gun safety, drugs and poison safety and other aspects of safety. Each lesson will be adapted for appropriateness for the age being taught.

“Safety Town is a national program taught in many cities across the United States,” said Delp. “We were able to take direction from the national criteria and develop a program unique for Unicoi County, tying in aspects of importance for our young children.”

Several local organizations will work with the Chamber to offer this safety education program, including the Erwin Police Department, Erwin Fire Department, All-American Handgun School and others.

Two sessions of Safety Town will be held next month – June 7-9 and June 14-16. Both sessions will be held at Unicoi County Middle School and will last from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. each day.

Registration is currently open and the cost is $25 for Unicoi County residents and $30 for non-residents. Participants will receive a Safety Town T-shirt. Scholarships are available.

“We will never turn down a child if their family cannot pay,” Delp said.

Applications are available at the Chamber office on Main Avenue in downtown Erwin and online at www.unicoicounty.org. For more information, call the Chamber at 743-3000. The deadline to register is Friday, June 3.

Chamber celebrates National Travel & Tourism Week

As part of National Travel & Tourism Week, Chamber Tourism Director Dawn Edwards, left, and Executive Director Amanda Delp visited travel-related businesses in the county, including Matt Moses at USA Raft, to show their appreciation for the businesses’ efforts to bring tourists to Unicoi County. (Contributed photo)

As part of National Travel & Tourism Week, Chamber Tourism Director Dawn Edwards, left, and Executive Director Amanda Delp visited travel-related businesses in the county, including Matt Moses at USA Raft, to show their appreciation for the businesses’ efforts to bring tourists to Unicoi County.
(Contributed photo)

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce wants you to celebrate National Travel & Tourism Week by “being a tourist in your own town.”

“This is the 33rd annual event,” Chamber Executive Director Amanda Delp told The Erwin Record. “It was established by a Congressional Resolution in 1983 to unite communities each year in celebration of what travel means to American jobs, economic growth and personal well-being. Travel generates $2.1 trillion for the U.S. economy. It is one of America’s largest industries and supports more than 15 million jobs. One in every nine American jobs depends on travel.”

Travel and tourism also have a positive impact on Unicoi County. According to numbers from the Economic Impact of Travel on Tennessee Counties Report issued in 2014, that year tourism generated $8.51 million in direct tourism expenditures, generated 70 jobs, produced $1.76 million in payroll, created $690,000 in local tax revenue and created $450,000 in state tax revenue.

Also according to the report, on an average day in 2014 tourist spending in Unicoi County generated $23,315 in daily expenditures, produced $4,821 in daily payroll, created $1,890 daily in local tax revenues and created $1,232 daily in state tax revenues.

The report also states that Unicoi County households pay $149.98 in local and state taxes because of the revenue generated by tourism.

“People don’t always realize how important tourism and travel are to the county, state and country,” Delp said. “Those are dollars coming into the community that are left in the community and we are not having to provide essential county services for. For example, when tourists come in here and leave tax dollars, we are not funding schools or other essential services for them. In the industry those are called clean dollars.”

Delp encourages county residents to “be a tourist” in their own backyards this week and every week.

“I think we sometimes take for granted all we have here,” she said. “Visitors come in from all over the country and they are just in awe of our mountains, our streams, our river and our trails. When they come here, they automatically fall in love with Unicoi County.

“We encourage everyone to spend time being a tourist in your own community. Get out and experience what people from all over the country are coming to experience. Take a rafting trip, hike, mountain bike, ride an ATV, visit downtown and more.”

Also part of the Chamber’s activities for National Travel & Tourism Week, Delp and Tourism Director Dawn Edwards visited some of the county’s tourism-related businesses and delivered a small token of their appreciation to them.

At the state level, the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development celebrated National Travel & Tourism Week and launched the “SEE TennesSEE More Clearly” campaign at the 14 welcome centers across the state.

The initiative offers an added gesture of hospitality for Tennessee guests as tourism industry partners wash their windshields, symbolizing the opportunity to view the state’s expansive scenic beauty, a press release from the state reported.

TBI: Simpson added to Top Ten Most Wanted list

Carlie Trent

Carlie Trent

Gary Simpson

Gary Simpson

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) has a new addition to the state’s Top Ten Most Wanted list, Gary Simpson.

Simpson is wanted by the Rogersville Police Department and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for Especially Aggravated Kidnapping. According to a press release from the TBI, on May 4, Simpson reportedly kidnapped 9-year-old Carlie Marie Trent from school. Simpson has no custodial rights to Carlie, and the TBI believes that Carlie is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.

Simpson was last seen driving a white 2002 Dodge conversion van with Tennessee tag 173 GPS. The van has a dark stripe down the middle with light gold running boards and paint chipping off the hood. The direction of travel is unknown.

Warrants are on file with the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office. Simpson is the suspect of the AMBER Alert that is currently issued for Carlie Marie Trent.

Simpson, 57, is a white male with brown eyes and brown hair, which is balding. He stands 5 feet 10 and weighs approximately 157 pounds.

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Gary Simpson is urged to call the TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND (1-800-824-3463). There is a $1,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.

MSHA: Learning about Zika virus, taking correct precautions important

From Staff Reports

The Zika virus outbreak has affected South America, Mexico, the Caribbean and Latin America over the last year. So should we be concerned about it in our region?

Jamie Swift, director of infection prevention at Mountain States Health Alliance (MSHA), recommends everyone be aware of Zika, how it might affect them and what preventive measures should be taken.

“We’re learning more about Zika every day, and we know the most significant impact of infection is seen in pregnant women,” Swift said. “However, anyone traveling to a Zika-affected area needs to speak with their healthcare provider about appropriate prevention measures.”

It’s important that females who wish to become pregnant talk to their physician if the woman or her sex partner has traveled, or is planning to travel, to a Zika-infected area. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released specific guidelines around this topic.

Zika (pronounced “ZEE-kah”) is initially transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito, and there have been no reported mosquito-borne cases in the United States. But people who are bitten in an affected country can bring Zika back to the U.S., and the disease is also sexually transmissible.

That means there is concern about the spread of the disease as more U.S. travelers return from Zika-infected areas, MSHA reported. If they come back infected, they could spread the disease either through sex or from being bitten by mosquitoes that would then spread the virus when they bite other people. And because most people don’t experience significant symptoms, they wouldn’t realize they were infected in the first place.

It is important that everyone returning from a Zika-affected area take measures to prevent mosquito bites for at least three weeks upon their return to the U.S. That way, if someone was infected, they won’t further transmit the virus by mosquitoes.

“Symptoms are usually mild and only last a few days,” Swift said. “But Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly, as well as other severe fetal brain defects. A lot of us have seen images of the babies born with this defect and it’s heartbreaking. So this is not something to be taken lightly.”

According to the CDC, every state in the U.S. has seen cases of Zika but all have been travel-associated. As of May 4, there had been two Zika cases in Tennessee and 13 in Virginia. North Carolina has reported 11 cases and Kentucky five.

There is no vaccine for the virus, so avoiding mosquito bites is the most important prevention method. For pregnant women, the CDC recommends avoiding travel to areas with Zika. They should also talk to their physician about steps to prevent mosquito bites and to prevent getting Zika through sex.

Here are a few facts from the CDC about Zika:

  • The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes).
  • The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito.
  • People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected.
  • Once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections.

Swift said Mountain States continues to stay on top of the situation.

“We’re monitoring the CDC interim guidelines daily and we’re pushing out updates to physicians, pediatric areas and family birth centers,” Swift said. “And we’re staying in close contact with the departments of health in Tennessee and Virginia. If any Zika testing is necessary, we’ll do that in coordination with our health departments and the CDC.

“As far as treatment of someone infected with Zika, at this time standard precautions are used and there’s no isolation required.”

For more information on Zika and its prevention, visit www.CDC.gov/zika.