State officials say Lancaster County, along with 15 other southern Pennsylvania counties, will be closely monitored as part of a statewide plan to combat the Zika virus. The state Department of Environmental Protection will work on eradicating mosquitoes near houses of persons confirmed or suspected to have the virus. There are currently no locally transmitted cases in the continental United States, but officials warn that cases may arise once mosquito season begins in June. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Friday that 157 pregnant women in the continental U.S., and 122 in its territories, have tested positive for Zika.
The Zika virus has been quickly spreading in Puerto Rico and throughout Latin America. Soon, it will likely arrive in the United States. And we need to be ready.
Symptoms of the virus — mild fever, rash, join pain and red eyes — aren’t all that dangerous; they can be treated with rest, fluids and acetaminophen. The effects the virus can have on pregnant women and infants are much more concerning.
Health officials say Zika can cause miscarriage and microcephaly, a serious birth defect that causes a baby’s head to be much smaller than expected. This could lead to seizures and problems with speech, eyesight, hearing, movement and swallowing.
To potentially avoid Zika's devastating, lifelong effects, Pennsylvania, particularly Lancaster and its neighboring counties, must be ready to combat this virus before it arrives.
Thankfully, state officials are not taking the Zika threat lightly.
On the national level, President Barack Obama for months has been urging Congress to pass legislation to fund the fight against Zika. Obama proposed $1.8 billion in funding in February. Last week, House Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts, R-16th District, passed a bill with $622 million to combat Zika. That is disappointing.
“We were able to do it without scooping more money out of the taxpayer’s pocket,” Pitts said in an email. “The funding we passed it completely offset, partly by leftover funds from fighting Ebola.”
We hope Congress can compromise — and compromise quickly — on a bill passed by the Senate that funds roughly $1.1 billion, which is more along the lines of what public health experts say is needed.
Meanwhile, we urge local residents to take precautions at home.
Lancaster General Health Physicians-Infectious Diseases Chair Deborah K. Riley says that because there is no vaccine available, the way to avoid Zika is to avoid mosquito bites.
There are several ways to accomplish that:
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when possible.
- Use a mosquito repellent registered by the Environmental Protection Agency, but carefully check labels to make sure it’s safe to use around children and pregnant women.
- Keep mosquitoes outside of your home by using air conditioning, window screens or insecticide-treated mosquito netting.
- Control mosquito populations around your home by emptying or routinely changing standing water from flowerpots, bird baths and pet dishes.
The CDC recommends that couples expecting a child, or women of child-bearing years, take special care. More detailed information may be found at bit.ly/ZikaVirusPrecautions.
Riley advises those who experience only mild symptoms to avoid getting tested for Zika. State officials are expecting more than 200 Zika tests per week this summer. Tests are sent to the CDC in Colorado. Results usually take about six weeks.
These tests, Riley says, should be reserved for “high-risk pregnant patients or for those with severe disease.”
We urge Lancaster County residents to be cautious when traveling outside of the country, and to make the necessary efforts to decrease the mosquito population around their homes.