Wolf Administration Increases Zika Surveillance Plans; Risk of Contracting Virus in Commonwealth Currently Very Low
HARRISBURG, Pa- Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf today announced his administration’s plan to bolster surveillance, mitigation, and response efforts for Zika virus to better protect all residents in the commonwealth.
The Pennsylvania Zika Virus Response Plan, developed by the Pennsylvania Departments of Health and Environmental Protection, outlines the phases of education, surveillance, and response activities that will occur for various levels of mosquito activity within the commonwealth as well as triggers based on the presence of Zika disease within our state. The phases range from the current situation of a moderate level of travel-associated cases to potential widespread local transmission by mosquitos. Pennsylvania has requested funds from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to implement this plan.
“My administration is committed to ensuring the health and safety of all Pennsylvanians,” said Governor Wolf. “We are continuing to work with our partners on the local, state, and federal levels to keep Pennsylvania safe. The roll-out of this plan is another proactive step in our collaborative strategy to protect our citizens and prevent the spread of the Zika virus.”
“This Zika Virus Response Plan will better help us protect the health of the more than 12 million people who call Pennsylvania home,” said Secretary of Health Karen Murphy. “Zika generally causes very mild symptoms and rarely leads to serious side effects in those who become ill with the virus. However, pregnant women and those of childbearing age are at greatest risk as Zika is known to potentially cause serious and even fatal birth defects in some babies born to women infected with the virus during pregnancy. This plan will help ensure we have the measures in place to better inform and protect all of our residents.”
The main goals of the Pennsylvania Zika Virus Response Plan are to:
- Enhance DOH surveillance for Zika cases in Pennsylvanians;
- Develop a plan that will enable DOH to test for the virus without using CDC laboratories;
- Enhance DEP vector surveillance and control of the Aedes albopictus and Aedes aegypti species of mosquitos; and
- Ensure collaboration between commonwealth agencies and partners to educate pregnant women and the general public about important Zika virus messages.
Currently, the only confirmed cases of Zika in Pennsylvania are in individuals who contracted the virus while visiting one of the areas where the virus is actively spreading. At this time, no cases of Zika in Pennsylvania or in the continental U.S. have occurred as a result of locally acquired infections. Once warmer temperatures arrive in the commonwealth and remain in place throughout the summer months, the risk of limited local transmission of Zika virus by the type of mosquitos that potentially carry it will increase.
“DEP and our county partners are focused on monitoring for the presence of mosquitos potentially associated with Zika transmission and implementing control measures when necessary,” said DEP Secretary John Quigley. “We are working very closely with the Department of Health to ensure the safety of our citizens.”
Zika is a generally mild illness, and most individuals do not have any symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they can include fever, rash, joint or muscle pain, conjunctivitis (pink eye), or headache, and last from several days to one week.
Although the Aedes aegypti mosquito remains the primary carrier of the Zika virus, Aedes albopictus has also been implicated as a secondary carrier of this disease. While Aedes aegypti has not been found in Pennsylvania since 2002, Aedes albopictus has been found throughout the major metropolitan areas of southern Pennsylvania. These species are different from ones DEP currently surveys and require different tactics. The new surveillance and control methods outlined in the plan that are needed to protect public health from this potential threat will require additional DEP resources.
The disease can also be transmitted sexually, as well as by blood transfusions. The CDC advises men who have traveled to the Zika-affected areas to wear condoms consistently and correctly during sex to avoid spreading the virus to their partners. This is especially important for men whose partners are pregnant women or women who are of childbearing age, as the Zika virus has been linked to potentially severe birth defects in babies born to women who had the illness during pregnancy.
The CDC also recommends that all pregnant women consider postponing travel to Zika-affected areas. Women who are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or may be pregnant and must travel to these areas should first consult with their health care provider. Pregnant women who visit Zika-affected areas and develop symptoms within two weeks of returning home should contact their health care provider.
Because there currently is no vaccine or treatment for Zika, the best way to avoid contracting the virus is to prevent mosquito bites by:
- Using an insect repellent containing DEET;
- Wearing light-colored, lightweight, loose-fitting clothing that covers hands, arms, legs, and other exposed skin.
- Using physical barriers such as screens, closed doors and windows.
The Aedes types of mosquitos that can potentially transmit the Zika virus bite during the daytime. To control all mosquitos outside your home or business:
- Install or repair and use window and door screens.
- Once a week, empty and scrub, turn over, cover, or throw out any items that hold water like buckets, planters, toys, pools, birdbaths, flowerpot saucers, or trash containers. Mosquitos lay eggs near water.
- Use an outdoor flying insect spray where mosquitos rest – dark, humid areas like under patio furniture or under the carport or garage.
- Have clogged roof gutters cleaned every year, particularly if the leaves from surrounding trees have a tendency to plug up the drains. Roof gutters can produce millions of mosquitoes each season.
- If you have a septic tank, repair cracks or gaps. Cover open vent or plumbing pipes with wire mesh that consists of holes smaller than an adult mosquito.
For more information, visit www.zika.pa.gov.