Federal funds to help stop Zika spread in Delaware

 

Delaware Mosquito Control program manager, Tom Moran, left, demonstrates where mosquitoes can breed while U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del), looks on during a press conference on Zika at the Delaware Public Health Laboratory in Smyrna on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Delaware Mosquito Control program manager, Tom Moran, left, demonstrates where mosquitoes can breed while U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del), looks on during a press conference on Zika at the Delaware Public Health Laboratory in Smyrna on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

SMYRNA — As more cases of the Zika virus arise in the United States, states are scrambling to prevent and respond to the spread. Delaware is no exception.

On Thursday it was announced the state has received $813,000 in federal funding to support current efforts against Zika.

“This funding will greatly enhance our effort to raise awareness among Delawareans about how they can reduce mosquito populations around their homes, boost our response capability to more effectively implement localized controls and improve our ability to monitor mosquito populations across the state,” said David Small, secretary of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

Public officials all agree that education is the most important aspect of preventing the virus from spreading.

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del), left, and DNREC Secretary David Small during a press conference on Zika at the Delaware Public Health Laboratory in Smyrna on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del), left, and DNREC Secretary David Small during a press conference on Zika at the Delaware Public Health Laboratory in Smyrna on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

So far in Delaware, 11 individuals have contracted the virus in a region where Zika is active and common but there are no locally acquired cases –– but Florida recently reported 21 cases of locally acquired Zika so it’s a real threat that Delawareans could soon be facing.

“We’ve been researching Zika for months and we are prepared and we are ready,” said Division of Public Health Director Karly Rattay. “We must be willing and ready to address public health issues and Zika is no different.”

The most common way the virus is spread is through mosquitoes who bite an individual with the virus and transmit it to the next person or persons it bites.

“After you visit a region where Zika is common, it’s important to wear mosquito repellent for at least three weeks after your return,” said Dr. Rattay. “You don’t want to be the person responsible for spreading Zika in Delaware.”

Although most people who contract the Zika virus will only experience symptoms of a mild illness like a fever, rash or joint pain, there is the potential for much more significant complications like birth defects.

The most well known birth defect caused by Zika is microcephaly –– a condition where an infant is born with a smaller than average head. Microcephaly can be associated with below average brain development leading to intellectual disabilities including poor speech and motor function.

Administrator for Delaware Mosquito Control Bill Meredith speaks during  a press conference on Zika at the Delaware Public Health Laboratory in Smyrna on Thursday.  (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Administrator for Delaware Mosquito Control Bill Meredith speaks during a press conference on Zika at the Delaware Public Health Laboratory in Smyrna on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

This condition is most likely to develop if a woman is infected with Zika during pregnancy.

“This is an all-hands-on-deck moment. It’s a big deal when a woman gives birth to a child with microcephaly,” Sen. Tom Carper said. “If the child survives birth and infancy, the cost of raising it could be up to $10 million.”

DPH has worked closely with DNREC and politicians since late last fall to develop approaches to prevent the spread of Zika and right now, the easiest method of prevention is using mosquito repellent and eliminating mosquito breeding grounds on your property.

The Asian tiger mosquito has been known to carry West Nile Virus and is also a carrier of Zika and very common in both urban and rural Delaware.

“The Asian tiger mosquito is our primary concern,” said Dr. Bill Meredith, administrator of DNREC’s mosquito control. “We are going to collect pools, groups of 25 or more female Asian tiger mosquitoes, and the public health lab will test them for us. Do they have Zika? Most probably won’t but it’s something we need to do.”

Delaware is in the northernmost range for yellow fever mosquitoes which are potential carriers of Zika so samples of the yellow fever species will also be tested.

Of the $813,000 in grant funding, $166,000 is going straight to DNREC for mosquito control.

“We are going to put this funding to work,” Dr. Meredith said. “We are a public service agency, we’re a public health agency. We’re concerned about health and disease prevention so if anyone is having a problem with mosquitoes, we want to know. We want to be yelled at. We want to know where the problems are so we can effectively focus our resources.”

Things you can do to reduce the number of mosquitoes on your property is to eliminate their breeding grounds which tend to be in standing water.

Division of Public Health Director, Dr. Karyl Rattay speaks during a press conference on Zika at the Delaware Public Health Laboratory in Smyrna on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Division of Public Health Director, Dr. Karyl Rattay speaks during a press conference on Zika at the Delaware Public Health Laboratory in Smyrna on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“We ask people to dump out standing water on a regular basis to stop breeding from happening,” said Tom Moran, project manager for Mosquito Control. “It can be something as simple as a cooler or child’s toy that’s collected rainwater but there are more cryptic places water can sit like downspouts and rain gutters.”

Five to seven days is all the time is takes for a female to lay eggs and for them to hatch. Mosquitoes will linger close to where they hatch so mosquito larvae in your backyard will mean grown, biting mosquitoes in your backyard too.

If you’re spending a lot of time outside, mosquito repellent can deter biters and lightweight, long-sleeve clothing can prevent bites too.

Zika can be transmitted not only through mosquito bites but through sexual activity as well. Couples in which one or both partners have traveled to, or lived in an area where the Zika virus is active should use condoms for at least eight weeks after return and if one partner has been diagnosed with Zika, condoms should be used for at least six months.

Although it’s unknown how common transmission of the virus from mother to baby is, when pregnancy is involved, the Division of Public Health strongly recommends using condoms for the remainder of the pregnancy if the man has been to or lived in an area where Zika is active.

The most desired way to prevent catching or spreading Zika would be with a vaccine, a vaccine may be a long way off so for now, preventing mosquito bites and using condoms are the best ways to prevent the spread of Zika.

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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