Zika: Don’t panic, but be prepared

Published 11:01 pm Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The heat is on in Alabama and with it comes mosquito season. In an ordinary year, that’s irritating enough but this is no ordinary year.

As USA Today’s Liz Szabo recently reported, the Gulf Coast, including Alabama, is on the front line of the fight against Zika, the virus the Aedes aegypti mosquito species can transmit.

Zika, already prevalent in some Latin American countries, can cause severe birth defects in children born to infected mothers, including microcephaly, and poses other grim health risks.

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As Szabo’s report explained, the United States, to date, doesn’t have a coordinated plan to control spread of the disease. No approved vaccine or treatment exists, and disease-prevention efforts will fall mostly on the shoulders of mosquito-control districts and local governments.

To make matters worse, Republicans in Congress have refused to approve $1.9 billion in Zika emergency funding President Obama has requested. Meanwhile deep cuts to federal, state and local public health programs in recent years will hamper those agencies ability to respond adequately to the threat.

That’s cause for concern, not for panic. Health experts don’t anticipate an epidemic, but outbreaks may occur.

The Alabama Department of Public Health has already taken steps to raise public awareness about Zika and established protocols for physicians to diagnose and report potential cases.

According to the ADPH website, of 56 potential cases of the disease, three cases have been confirmed and six are pending.

In an April 20 letter posted on the website, State Health Officer Thomas M. Miller says all Zika infections in the U.S. thus far “have been related to travel to a Zika affected area or through sexual contact with such a traveler.”

Miller also reiterates preventive recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They include use of repellant, wearing of protective clothing, reduction of standing water where mosquitoes breed and repair of home window screens. More detailed information can be found at the CDC website.

Conventional mosquito spraying doesn’t do the job on this particular species. Some cities, such as affluent Key West, Fla., are sending mosquito inspectors door to door to inform residents and treat Zika hot-spots, which can be as innocuous as a water barrel or bromeliad plant.

That’s not going to work in low-tax-base Alabama.

One partial solution is for non-profit groups to team up with mosquito districts and city and county governments to spread the word on preparing for and preventing the Zika virus.

Online – www.montgomeryadvertiser.com