Local health departments are using their own resources to boost mosquito prevention efforts, as Congress remains split over a funding bill to boost preparation and research for the Zika virus.
Most preparations are well practiced after years of dealing with West Nile: health departments set traps, spray for mosquitoes, and encourage residents to wear long-sleeves and insect repellent.
There have been no cases of Zika transmitted by local mosquitoes so far in the continental United States, but the northernmost ranges of the two mosquito species that carry Zika do cross through Missouri. Seven Missourians have been diagnosed with the virus after traveling to affected areas, including two pregnant women.
“We use the same equipment that we use for all mosquito-borne prevention efforts. Those efforts have taken on a bit more intensity, because of the public’s concern,” said Dr. Faisal Khan, director of St. Louis County’s Department of Public Health.
If mosquitoes carrying Zika make their way to Missouri, that doesn’t mean there will be an outbreak. Mosquito-borne illnesses need human hosts to continue to spread. But Khan said the lack of federal funding is a concern.
“We are in a relatively good position in St. Louis County, but other entities across the country are not,” Khan said. “Out of the 2,800-odd local health departments across the country, easily 60 percent are dependent on state and federal funding for their operations, and that’s where it hits us — really bad.”
For about a month, teams from Missouri State University have collected mosquitoes and their larvae to look for the species that may carry Zika, said Peter Lyskowski, acting director for Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services.
“Where they are, in what concentration they’re occurring, all those things that play into how much of a risk they may pose to citizens,” Lyskowski said.
Without federal funding, the agency has shifted some state emergency management funds to boost their preparation, Lyskowski said — including sending insect wipes and spray to distribute state parks.
“Obviously we don’t want to do that on a long term basis, because there are other things we want to be focusing on as well,” Lyskowski said. “The bottom line is, if those resources don’t come, we’re still prepared to do all we can.”
The Zika virus is generally mild, but can cause severe birth defects such as microcephaly if a woman contracts the disease while pregnant. The virus can also be transmitted sexually or through mosquito bites. The CDC has urged pregnant women to delay trips to countries where Zika is present.
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