Delaware receives $813,000 in additional grant funding to fight the disease

Everyone in Delaware can help prevent the possible spread of the mosquito-borne Zika virus.

The message that First State residents can deny Zika-infected mosquitoes a place to breed was brought home by Dr. Bill Meredith, administrator of DNREC’s mosquito control division during a Thursday afternoon press conference.

The meeting was held at the state’s Public Health Laboratory in Smyrna, whose responsibilities include testing for Zika, West Nile and other diseases.

As of Thursday, there have been 11 confirmed Zika patients in the state, all of who were infected while visiting areas where virus-carrying mosquitoes are prevalent.

DNREC is tasked with controlling mosquito populations in the state to prevent the spread not only of Zika but of the West Nile virus, Meredith said. The prime potential culprit is the Asian tiger mosquito, which is found throughout the state, he said.

The state recently received an infusion of $813,000 in funding from the Centers for Disease Control that will help in that effort, Meredith said.

Birth defects caused by Zika

When a mosquito bites an infected person, it draws some of the virus-infected blood into its body, and then passes the virus on when feeding on an uninfected person.

Only about one in five infected people show any signs of the flu-like disease and symptoms generally are mild.

The primary public health concern is that serious birth defects can result when pregnant women or those planning to become pregnant contract the virus. Stillbirths, miscarriages and birth defects, including microcephaly, where the child’s brain fails to develop completely, have been linked to Zika.

None of the cases in Delaware have involved a pregnant woman.

Controlling the mosquito population is a prime means of keeping the insects from infecting people, Meredith said.

Although DNREC has treated areas near the homes of several Zika patients, it is up to individual homeowners and communities to clean up areas where mosquitoes breed.

This primarily includes getting rid of standing water that can be found in anything from children’s toys to uncovered rain barrels.

Meredith urged the public to contact his agency for information about mosquito-control efforts, including pinpointing areas where the insects collect.

“We want to hear from people about where the problems are because that helps us focus our resources,” he said.

New funding will help

Because there is no vaccine for Zika, the best defense against infection is controlling the mosquito population and taking precautions against mosquito bites, Department of Public Health Director Dr. Karyl T. Rattay said. Since the disease recently has been found to be transmitted sexually, it’s also important to be protected in that regard, she said.

DNREC and the DPH have developed plans to protect Delawareans against the virus, Rattay said. This includes working with centers serving low-income households in providing kits to test pregnant women for the Zika infection, she said. The state also has developed a system to track any infected women and their children through their first year.

To help prevent infections from mosquito bites, a recent regulatory change allows Medicaid patients with a prescription to get free over the counter insect repellant, if needed, Rattay said.

People who have traveled outside the state to virus-infected areas should continue to use mosquito repellant for at least three weeks, she added.

“You don’t want to be that person that accidentally brings the Zika virus to Delaware,” Rattay said.

Although the state receives annual federal funding for disease control efforts, the 2016 grant of $1.7 million included the $813,000 to help in the effort to prevent Zika infections and to respond to any outbreak. The money will pay for new equipment, including a microscope for the DPH laboratory, mosquito traps and foggers. It also will be directed toward prevention and detection efforts as well as programs to make the public more aware of the dangers of the Zika virus.

Sen. Tom Carper was on hand to discuss the new funding and its impact on efforts to fight Zika.

Carper noted he and Sen. Chris Coons want Congress to complete work on providing emergency funding to address the Zika problem.

Congress adjourned without passing a bill that would have provided $1.1 billion in funding. Partisan haggling sidetracked the legislation, Carper said.

He will take up the issue again when Congress returns on Sept. 6, Carper said, noting the best way to fight Zika is to develop a vaccine for the disease.

Rattay noted there has been progress in that regard.

“There has been testing of one vaccine that we know of that has been shown to have promise,” she said, adding additional funding is needed for the next step in testing.

“Having a vaccine would be a game-changer in terms of the Zika virus.” Rattay added.

To report a potential Zika illness or to learn more about testing, contact call the DPH Office of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at 302-744-4990. Flyers and educational tools are at the DPH Zika page, dhss.delaware.gov/dhss/dph/zika.html.

Two videos with information about the Zika virus and backyard water sanitation are available on DNREC’s YouTube Channel: Zika Virus, Mosquitoes & You, and Mosquito Control & Your Backyard.