State, local health officials honing Zika action plan

Published 5:24 pm Saturday, May 14, 2016

By Phillip LucasThe Associated Press

BIRMINGHAM (AP) — As mosquito season approaches, Alabama public health officials are working to get a better understanding of what resources are available for mosquito control efforts throughout the state amid rising concerns over the Zika virus.

Officials have said they hope public education and outreach coupled with mosquito control work help minimize the risk of the virus being transmitted locally.

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“We’re currently doing a statewide assessment of what capabilities are out there at the county and city level and that varies from very robust capabilities in some counties to minimal or no capabilities in some counties,” said Alabama Department of Public Health Emergency Preparedness Director Andy Mullins.

“Early information we’re getting back is what you’d expect. Larger cities and higher population counties in general have the most robust mosquito control, vector control programs,” he said, adding that rural counties generally don’t have the same resources.

“We are looking at is there a way for counties to provide mutual aid to each other with vector control just like they currently do with law enforcement, fire, EMS,” Mullins said. The department is also working to find whether federal funding may be available to offset the costs.

The CDC announced Friday afternoon that states may apply for funding through the agency to fight Zika locally.

Officials said more than $85 million is available in redirected funds identified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Zika virus spreads through bites from infected Aedes species mosquitoes, primarily the Aedes aegypti which is present in Alabama, according to the CDC.

One advantage is that the mosquito that spreads the Zika virus doesn’t travel very far from where it breeds, Mullins said.

The virus has not been detected in any local mosquito populations, but that doesn’t mean the possibility doesn’t exist.

“We want to be prepared, and the state wants to be prepared,” said Madison County Health Department’s Cheryl Clay.

The virus has most recently been prevalent in South and Central America, but had caused outbreaks in parts of Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands before 2015, according to the CDC. The virus causes fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes. Contracting Zika during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects. Public health officials have said men can also pass the virus along to their sexual partners and the virus survives longer in semen than it does in blood.

Although the Madison County Health Department will begin fogging in the Huntsville area on Wednesday, Clay says it’s not a comprehensive method of keeping mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus and other diseases at bay.

“The thing that a lot of people don’t know about these two mosquitoes is that they’re not your typical floodwater and storm water mosquitoes. These types of mosquitoes like to breed in artificial environments around yards and homes,” she said.

State health officials are urging property owners to rid their areas of any standing water or objects that might collect water to minimize the number of potential breeding grounds. There have been three travel-related Zika cases in Alabama but no confirmed local transmissions, according to the state Department of Public Health.