By Kaitlyn Foti
NORRISTOWN >> Health officials confirmed a second case of travel-related Zika virus in Montgomery County while outlining steps local residents can take to prevent mosquitos from breeding.
A 59-year-old woman who traveled to an area where the virus is prevalent in February developed symptoms after returning. The Center for Disease Control tested and confirmed March 28 that the woman had contracted the Zika virus.
Though the virus manifests with mild symptoms that rarely require serious medical care, there are links to adverse pregnancy and birth outcomes.
“A majority of people don’t even realize they have been infected by the virus,” said Commissioner Val Arkoosh, who also serves as the interim medical director for the county health department. “The concern is mostly for women who are pregnant, and so we all have to take the responsibility trying to reduce mosquito breeding as much as possible to protect women in our county who are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant in the near future.”
Steve Gerloff, a supervisor of environmental field services for the county, outlined why surveillance and prevention of mosquito breeding throughout the county are important steps to take for public health and safety.
“These are the top 10 deadliest animals on earth, and the mosquito is number one,” Gerloff said, showing a slide of animals including a lion, cobra, crocodile and shark. “It is responsible for 700,000 deaths a year. And that does not even account for the number of people it makes sick, which is many, many times more than that.”
While no cases of Zika virus have been transmitted in Montgomery County, or even within the United States, Gerloff said it is a possibility once mosquito season begins. The mosquito population in Pennsylvania is capable of spreading the virus, if a person with the virus is bitten by a mosquito during the seven to 10 day time-frame that the virus is present.
“We have all the ingredients for there to be an outbreak, it’s whether they get together and intermix,” Gerloff said. “It is a possibility unfortunately that we could have this in Montgomery County so we need to be prepared for it.”
The county already has infrastructure in place to monitor the mosquito population, care of the West Nile Virus Control Program that began in 2000, explained Pam Lawn, director of environmental field services. The program tests standing water to see if mosquitos are breeding, captures adult mosquitos and tests for viruses, and sprays for mosquitos in areas were adult mosquitos tested positive.
The county is reaching out to educate residents on measures to help prevent the spread of mosquito-borne viruses. 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.
Arkoosh 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.
“Fighting this mosquito will take everyone in our community to participate. There’s no way that workers from the health department can go around to everyone’s home and inspect for standing water and other breeding places for these mosquitos,” Arkoosh said.
Julie Paoline, director of communicable disease control and prevention for the county, encouraged community members to stay up-to-date on Zika and prevention plans by visiting the county’s page dedicated to information on the virus at Montcopa.org/zika.
“This is a rapidly evolving disease event so information is being updated and refined in a very frequent basis,” Paoline said.