Though there have been no cases of the Zika virus being acquired in Ohio, individuals who contracted it in other areas have brought it to the state.
Local health district and government officials are working together to educate people about the disease and how to protect themselves. Several village and city administrators, zoning officials and emergency management personnel met with Champaign Health District officials Tuesday to discuss the Zika virus and formulate responses in the event of an outbreak.
This was the third meeting of officials at the health district, Champaign Health Commissioner Jeff Webb said. The group plans to meet again in mid-June to keep updated on countywide efforts to control the mosquito population.
Webb said there are no confirmed individuals with Zika in Champaign County currently.
A lot of what local governments can do is educate the public on prevention, he said. The virus is most dangerous to unborn children, so women who are pregnant or become pregnant must take extra precautions, officials said. That includes not traveling to areas where the Zika-carrying mosquito is rampant, such as the Caribbean and southern states.
Health District Environmental Services Director Andy Russell told the group that Ohio is on the northern end of the range for Zika-carrying mosquitoes. It recently was discovered that a second type of mosquito can transmit the disease. A person can be infected by being bitten by an infected mosquito, or possibly through semen by an infected individual when having sexual intercourse. A pregnant woman can pass the disease to her child around the time of birth. The disease can be transmitted by blood transfusion, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Symptoms of the virus are similar to flu symptoms. It may not be obvious a person has been infected with the virus. There is no vaccine to prevent it.
Locally, municipalities and townships will begin spraying to keep down the mosquito population in their areas. The city of Urbana has sprayed for years and will begin May 11, Director of Administration Kerry Brugger said. Spraying is usually done every couple of weeks. The villages of St. Paris, North Lewisburg and Mechanicsburg will spray. This will be the first year Mechanicsburg will spray, Administrator April Huggins-Davis said.
Prevention is the best way to ensure safety, officials said. That includes not spending too much time outdoors in the evenings when mosquitoes are biting, wearing long-sleeved shirts and clothing that cover exposed areas, and using DEET.
Residents can reduce mosquito occurrence by making sure they do not have standing water around their homes. Bird baths can be kept, but the water must be changed weekly and the bath itself treated.
“A lot of (prevention) has to be done on the homeowner level,” Brugger said. “A lot of what we do in the city, villages and townships is reactive.”
Other areas of possible standing water include tires left outside after a rain.
“A cup of water can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes,” said Health District Environmental Tech Steve Moore.
Health District Emergency Preparedness and Accreditation Coordinator Jeanne Bowman said the Ohio Emergency Management Agency is offering grant funding to help communities pay for spraying and other measures to address Zika mosquitoes. Grants are available through a one-page form and must be sent in by May 15. Bowman added the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is offering grant funding for this next year, too.
For more information about Zika, visit the CDC website at www.cdc.gov, or the Ohio Department of Health website at www.odh.ohio.gov.
Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.