Zika Virus in Virginia– Gov. McAuliffe announced plans to create a task force to combat this after a VA resident was diagnosed with the disease after traveling abroad
Since the first Virginia resident was diagnosed with the Zika Virus in January, local authorities have been on alert, implementing an action plan to equip Virginia residents and proper authorities with the knowledge and tools to keep the virus at bay. “Prevention and mitigation are our best strategies for keeping Virginians healthy,” Governor McAuliffe announced at a press conference in February. “The Virginia Department of Health’s mission to prevent the spread of infectious diseases makes it well-suited to lead this multi-agency task force. The collaboration of agencies statewide will be invaluable as we prepare for the coming mosquito season.”
The Governor has been working since that press conference in February to organize a statewide task force with the help of the Virginia Department of Health. Virginia localities on mosquito surveillance and control programs were set to be created by May 1. There are now a confirmed 11 cases of Zika Virus in Virginia, all of them having contracted the disease from mosquito bites while traveling in areas with ongoing transmission.
While Zika Virus can be transmitted through the bite of Aedes species mosquitos (A. aegypti and A. albopictus), it can also be sexually transmitted as well as transmitted from a mother to unborn child. Typically, there are no symptoms when a person is infected with the disease, however there is danger for unborn children contracting the disease. It has been shown to cause birth defects such as microcephaly which causes babies to be born with unusually small heads and often under-developed brains.
The CDC is recommending that pregnant women avoid travel, especially to areas where the disease transmission is ongoing such as Central and South America. If you do choose to travel, take extra precautions to avoid mosquito bites and let a healthcare provider know immediately if you believe you have contracted the virus.
While officials believe transmission through mosquitos in the United States is unlikely, they are still advising residents take extra precautions to avoid mosquito bites this season which officially runs from May 1-October in Virginia. Since Aedes albopictus or Asian Tiger mosquitos are common in Northern Virginia, it is advisable to eliminate any standing water around houses and yards. These species of mosquitos lay eggs in containers of open water, so eliminating their breeding grounds helps cut down on the number of mosquitos in the area. If eliminating standing water isn’t possible, treat open water with a larvacide such as Bacillus thuringiensis var.israelensis and be sure to follow label instructions.
In an online chat about the Zika virus, Shawn Kiernan, Communicable Disease Epidemiologist with the Fairfax County Health Department said, “Given the increased concerns about this virus, we will look for additional ways to communicate the important prevention steps, particularly wearing insect repellent and getting rid of standing water.” The task force is also working to communicate this information to residents who do not speak English as a first language.
Officials are taking all necessary precautions to be proactive and avoid the spread of the virus throughout Virginia before it has the possibility of becoming an epidemic.