At the request of Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks), the Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a roundtable discussion Thursday on Pennsylvania's Zika Virus response plan that focused on measures available for state, local and health officials to educate the public about potential health impacts.
"While I'm pleased to see that our state has already put an extensive plan into place, it is imperative that we do all we can to track the spread of this virus and to keep people informed about how they can best protect themselves," said Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Lehigh), Chair of the Committee. "Today's hearing is aimed at making sure government is doing all it can to coordinate the best possible statewide response."
Sen. Schwank, who serves as the Minority chair of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, said "this effort will require a great deal of cooperation and coordination between state, federal and local agencies. It is imperative that we get this right and do this right."
Joining the Senators for the roundtable discussion were:
-- Dr. Loren Robinson, Deputy Secretary for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, PA Department of Health
-- Dana Aunkst, Deputy Secretary of Water Programs, PA Department of Environmental Protection;
-- Dr. Jason Rasgon, Assoc. Prof. of Entomology and Disease Epidemiology, Pennsylvania State University;
-- Dr. Robert S. Jones, D.O., Medical Director, Infection Prevention, Reading Health System;
-- Marie Keim, Director of Epidemiology, Infection Control and Prevention, Reading Hospital; and
-- Dean Druckenmiller, District Executive, Berks County Conservation District.
The Zika virus was first detected in Brazil over a year ago. Spread by infected mosquitos, the virus generally causes very mild symptoms and rarely leads to serious side effects. However, it does pose a serious threat to pregnant women because the infection can cause birth defects.
Experts at the hearing said the risk for Pennsylvanians is low, but the Ebola scare taught lessons about being prepared for things to change.
"As a community and as a state, we're going to collaborate. It's critical that our communication is clear and that it provides honest information," said Marie Keim, Director of Epidemiology, Infection Control and Prevention, Reading Hospital. "Whether it's twitter, whether it's facebook, whether it's the news, it's important that we're getting it out in a language that is easy to understand.
As of May 2, there were no reports of the virus being spread by mosquitoes in the continental United States yet. However, Pennsylvania does have 19 confirmed cases of people who have the virus -- with 178 test results still pending.
Dr. Jason Rasgon, Associate Professor of Entomology and Disease Epidemiology at Penn State University noted the rapid manner in which research and information on Zika evolves. "I would say something and it would be outdated the next day," Dr. Rasgon said. "That's how quickly things are changing."
The Wolf Administration has already established a Zika response plan that outlines the phases of education, tracking, and response activities that are to occur based on various levels of mosquito activity in Pennsylvania.
Sen. Boscola credited the plan for including public awareness and education. She also said it would be critical for government agencies to work closely together to assure that the state is as prepared as possible.
The best way to prevent mosquito bites is to use an insect repellant, take steps to keep mosquitoes out of your home; reduce standing water outside; and wear long sleeves and pants outdoors.
For more information, visit the Department of Health’s Zika Virus website.Copies of written testimony received by the Committee are usually posted on the Senate Democratic Policy Committee webpage.