Health officials want citizens to reduce Zika risk
— Cecil County’s top public health officials urged all residents Tuesday to be vigilant about helping reduce the spread of the Zika virus here by taking preventive measures to reduce mosquito bites as warm weather begins.
“There’s no reason to be afraid,” Cecil County Health Officer Stephanie Garrity said. “But we all need to be vigilant.”
Zika virus was first isolated in the 1940s in Africa and has since spread across the world. It is carried by both the tiger and yellow fever mosquitos, which are found in Maryland, and has reached pandemic levels in Central and South America over the past year.
Many infected people don’t develop symptoms, which can include fever, rash, joint pain or pink eye, making the virus
difficult to track. It is transmitted when a mosquito bites an infected person and then bites another person. The virus can be passed from a pregnant woman to her baby, causing microcephaly or other birth defects in infants. It has also been linked with adult Guillan-Barre syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes muscle weakness.
Garrity explained one simple thing anyone can do is to eliminate any small areas of standing water weekly at homes and businesses.
“This type of mosquito likes to breed in small, dark pools of standing water that might be lying inside an empty flower pot, child’s toy or old tire,” she said.
Actions to take include eliminating standing water once a week, tightly cover water storage containers, repair cracks in septic tanks, cover open vents or plumbing pipes, use screens on windows, repair holes in screens and use air conditioning when possible.
Everyone should also use an insect repellent with either DEET, picaridin, icaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or para menthane-diol (PMD), officials recommended.
County Environmental Health Director Fred von Staden said everyone should protect themselves outside by wearing treated clothing, long sleeves and long pants.
“Children under 2 months old should not be covered with an insect repellant,” he said.
“There’s a lot we still don’t know about the Zika virus,” Deputy Health Officer Robin Waddell added Tuesday during a work session presentation for the Cecil County Board of Health, which consists of the health officer, county executive and county council. “There is no vaccine to prevent it or medicine to cure it yet, but progress is being made every day. Just yesterday I learned there is a test available to diagnose it. It will show up in blood during the first week of infection.”
Large tire piles are a habitat for breeding these mosquitos, von Staden said.
“We plan to go out into the community and talk with business owners to educate on ways to help,” he said.
Bill Voight and Bill Russell, who work for the Maryland Department of Agriculture in the summer to spray insecticide to temporarily knock down large adult mosquito populations in Cecil County, also explained their jobs and answered questions Tuesday morning from officials.
Voight, who has been spraying mosquitos for the last 40 years, said they spray at night so as not to disrupt the communities, or harm many good insects that are daytime acclimated.
“We have a lot of rules to follow, such as we can only spray once a week in the same area and we can’t spray if our count test doesn’t warrant it by getting three bites in 3 minutes,” he said.
They use a qualified insecticide — not DDT — and they spray upon request for a fee. If a neighborhood or a farm wants to be sprayed for mosquitos, the interested party must call Sabrina Scholl at the County Finance Department at 410-996-8054 to get scheduled.
“The fee is based on time spent, using $120 an hour as the rate,” she said.
Voight cautioned that the spray they do only is effective for about 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, the health department is moving forward with a public education campaign, including sending kits to all OB-GYN doctors, talks at schools, marinas, towns, summer camps, homeless camps and the Chamber of Commerce groups.
The state of Maryland paid for Zika virus prevention kits to be sent to each county and President Barack Obama has requested $1.8 billion from Congress to help fight the spread of the virus, although Congress has yet to act on the request.
Waddell said Tuesday that as of April 27, there have been 12 reported cases of the Zika virus in Maryland and a total of 426 cases in the U.S. Many of those cases involved individuals who had recently visited foreign nations.
Anyone with questions about the Zika virus can call the health department at 410996-5100, or visit the Zika virus information center online at www.cecilcountyhealth. org.