- The Washington Times - Monday, May 23, 2016

Operations to help curb the spread of the Zika virus are well underway in Virginia and Maryland, where a total of 32 people have been reported as being infected by the mosquito-borne disease.

As of Thursday, 15 people had been infected in Virginia, where Gov. Terry McAuliffe has formed a task force that coordinates public outreach and distribution of Zika prevention kits.

In addition, Virginia has launched several other prevention campaigns, including 450,000 door hangers, a TV public service announcement and radio spots, The Associated Press reported.

“This is a community challenge, not just a health department or a doctor’s challenge. It is everybody’s challenge to reduce the risk of mosquito bites,” said Dr. Stephen Haering, health director for the city of Alexandria. He said the city is providing resources through its health department website and plans to distribute information via homeowners associations and public schools.

Both Virginia and Maryland have collaborated with their local jurisdictions in prevention and preparation programs. Each state has funded the creation and distribution of 10,000 Zika prevention kits — packs of mosquito repellent, larvae spray, educational materials and condoms — to the localities, which then distribute them to obstetricians/gynecologists and clinics.

In Maryland, the number of reported cases of Zika have more than doubled in just a month and a half, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Eight people in the state were infected with Zika at the beginning of April; last week, that number jumped to 17.

The CDC has reported that as many as 544 people have been infected by Zika, whose symptoms can include fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes.

Mary Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, said county officials have begun several campaigns since Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan proclaimed the last week in April as “Zika Virus Awareness Week.” County residents can expect to receive informational mailers and see posters about the virus in county buildings and Ride On buses, she said.

“We don’t know if we will have locally acquired cases of Zika, but we have to prepare people with information and concrete steps,” Ms. Anderson said. “And if we don’t [have local cases], people are still doing something to get rid of mosquitoes because [they] are a nuisance — whether they carry West Nile virus or Zika or are just a plain old summer nuisance.”

Zika is spread primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito, but also can be transmitted through pregnancy and sex. Almost all 544 domestic cases of Zika were brought to the U.S. from people who had visited affected areas in South America and the Caribbean. According to the CDC, there are no reported cases of mosquito transmission in the U.S., but there have been cases of sexual transmission.

Though the illness is usually mild — with 80 percent of infected individuals showing no symptoms — Zika poses a considerable threat for pregnant women. The CDC has confirmed a link between Zika virus infection during pregnancy and microcephaly, a condition in which fetuses experience decreased head growth, abnormal brain development and other birth defects. As of last week, 157 of the reported U.S. cases are pregnant women.

The CDC alerted its emergency operations center about the outbreak in late January. Just over two weeks later, the CDC raised Zika to the highest level of emergency activation, calling the outbreak a major event.

The first report of sexually transmitted Zika — one of only 10 such cases in the U.S. — was reported in early February.

The virus has been active for decades but resurfaced in headlines last year, when Brazil confirmed its first case. This news has caused a stir in the international community as people debate whether Brazil should host the Summer Olympics this year, given the potential danger for pregnant women.

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