By Kaitlyn Foti
NORRISTOWN >> Montgomery County officials have outlined a plan in the event of a Zika outbreak locally.
While the county’s Health Department Administrator Dr. Irshad Shaikh said that the threat here is “low, but not zero,” the department has an action plan in place if it happens.
“The Health Department is doing its best, and we have a plan to make sure that if God forbid we have a transmission, how we are going to address it,” Shaikh said.
No locally transmitted cases of the virus have been found in Montgomery and no mosquitoes have been found carrying it, county officials reported Thursday. If either are found, Shaikh presented a nine-point plan.
First, a designated affected area will be determined in a five-block area around the confirmed case. This is because mosquitoes do not travel more than a few hundred yards in their lifetimes, Shaikh said. Then, door-to-door screening and testing will take place in that area.
In the event of local transmission, there will be Zika testing available at the health department’s clinics and the department will launch educational campaigns and distribute Zika prevention kits. The department will coordinate with health organizations and providers around the region, as well as keep residents informed using social media and printed materials.
The county will else mandate that all pregnant women throughout the county be tested at Ob/Gyn facilities, and increase fines for households that do not adhere to prevention standards set forth by the department.
“It’s very reassuring to know that we have the infrastructure in place to aggressively monitor for the presence of these mosquitoes and the disease and also that we have a very clear plan in plan should we have a case of local transmission here,” said Commissioner Val Arkoosh.
Prevention was stressed throughout the presentation by Shaikh.
“Most important of all is prevention. It is the key. Prevention is with you, with me, with the commissioners,” he said.
The county already has infrastructure in place to monitor the mosquito population, care of the West Nile Virus Control Program that began in 2000. The program tests standing water to see if mosquitoes are breeding, captures adult mosquitoes and tests for viruses, and sprays for mosquitoes in areas were adult mosquitoes tested positive.
However, the county is stepping up efforts to make sure that residents know to treat or remove standing water on their property to eliminate breeding grounds for the insects.
“Even a bottle cap that has water stagnant for four or five days is enough to breed larvae for the mosquitoes, so you can imagine it is a very tough job to make sure that we take all the breeding sites down at a household level,” Shaikh said.
Officials urged residents to empty out any containers or areas that collect standing water, such as buckets, planters, drains and tarps. The water should be discarded every five days, which is the length of the mosquito breeding cycle. Residents who do not comply will face warnings, citations and fines.
According to county officials, 90 residents have been contacted this year about neglecting standing water, but none of those cases resulted in citations or fines.
County officials also recommended that larvicide tablets can be purchased at little cost to be placed in standing water that is not easily emptied, such as ponds or large fountains.
Zika prevention kits, that include the tablets as well as insecticide, condoms and educational material, are available throughout the county by contacting the Montgomery County Health Department. Residents can also find out more information about prevention by visiting montcopa.org/zika.
Shaikh reported that only one in five persons infected with Zika will show symptoms, and urged that residents who have travelled to areas where the virus is prevalent, or are at risk of having the virus sexually transmitted by someone who has travelled, take extra precautions not to further spread the virus.
So far, Montgomery County has had four confirmed cases of the Zika virus, all travel-related.
While the virus has now reached the United States, with 30 cases reported in the Miami area by the Florida Department of Health, Shaikh said that Montgomery County is currently at very low risk for an outbreak.
“We have not found any mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus in Montgomery County,” said Commissioner Josh Shapiro, then knocking on wood. “In many ways we can control our destiny here by the public stepping up and dealing with standing water.”