ADPH urges Zika safety

Published 3:00 am Friday, May 27, 2016

The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) is gearing up for mosquito season by educating communities on what they can do to help prevent the Zika virus from spreading.

Its most recent effort consisted of sending 200,000 coloring books to children in schools across the state, targeting children in kindergarten through third grade.

Dr. Jim McVay, director of the Bureau of Health Promotion at the ADPH, explained how they decided on the tactic.

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“The theory was that the children will take these books to their parents,” he said. “The idea was to have the message get into the household and have the children reinforcing it.”

The Zika virus is spread through infected mosquitos and while its symptoms are fairly mild, it can cause severe birth defects if contracted while pregnant. The World Health Organization has declared it a public health emergency. Three confirmed cases have been identified in Alabama, all from individuals who had travelled to Zika-infected countries.

Concerns over the potential spread of the disease prompted the ADPH to step up educational efforts. The main message in the coloring books is simple: eliminate standing water in your home and community.

“The biggest, most effective thing we can do is get rid of breeding grounds,” McVay said. “Most mosquitoes don’t travel far from where they’re born, so if you remove the standing water from your home and the neighborhood, you can do a lot to protect your community.”

According to the CDC, the most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain or pink eye, with symptoms only occurring in about 20 percent of those infected.

The major concern with the virus is its spread to pregnant women, as it has been linked with severe birth defects such as microcephaly, which affects the development of the brain.

Despite the limited risk the disease poses to most people, McVay said the medical community is taking it seriously.

“There’s been a real response because people take bad outcomes for births in the community real seriously,” he said.

McVay said the ADPH would continue to put the message out throughout the summer, with plans to work with older students through social media.

The next push, he said, will be to warn travellers to take precautions against the virus to help keep it from entering the U.S.

There have been three confirmed cases of the Zika virus in Alabama, but all were related to travel to countries dealing with Zika outbreaks.

There have not been any confirmed cases of Zika being contracted locally in the United States at this time.