The Department of Health Thursday began distributing Zika Virus Prevention Kits for Pregnant Women to provide education about the virus and list the steps that can be taken to avoid mosquito bites, as well as prevent the insects from multiplying around homes.
"While Zika is spread primarily by mosquitoes that are infected with the virus, it also can spread through sexual contact with individuals who have the disease," said PA Department of Health Secretary Dr. Karen Murphy. "Because Zika poses serious health risks for babies born to women who contracted the virus during pregnancy, the kits include health education materials and prevention tools to avoid mosquito bites and sexual transmission of the disease to pregnant women. Using the products in the Zika Prevention Kit can help protect you and your loved ones from the virus."
The kits contain EPA-registered insect repellent for skin, permethrin spray repellent for treating clothing and shoes, standing water tablets for killing mosquito larva, condoms to prevent sexual transmission of Zika, and educational materials in both English and Spanish.
The kits will be available free of charge to pregnant women and can be obtained locally at health departments, federally qualified health centers, community health centers, WIC offices and other non-profit organizations that service women who are either low-income or homeless.
The kits are limited in quantity and will be distributed to organizations based on population, with distribution greatest in the southern part of the state.
Pregnant women can visit the Department of Health’s Zika Virus webpage to find a kit provider in their local area.
Electronic versions of the educational inserts can also be found on the department's website and are available for download in both English and Spanish.
Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that can cause mild symptoms, such as fever, rash, joint pain and pink eye. Zika rarely kills or causes serious disease. However, the virus presents a major threat to pregnant women or women who plan to become pregnant.
Zika infection during pregnancy has been linked to serious birth defects, including microcephaly in which babies' heads are smaller than normal.
Other measures that pregnant women can take to prevent mosquito bites include:
-- Wearing light-colored, lightweight, loose-fitting clothing that covers hands, arms, legs and other exposed skin;
-- Staying and sleeping in air-conditioned or screened rooms or under a mosquito net when outdoors; and
-- Staying indoors when mosquitoes are most active.
The mosquito that primarily carries the disease has rarely been found in Pennsylvania. A related type of mosquito that can potentially carry Zika has been found in southern and southeastern Pennsylvania.
At present, this mosquito does not appear to be as effective at spreading Zika.
Currently, the only confirmed cases of Zika in Pennsylvania are in individuals who contracted the virus while visiting one of the areas where the virus is actively spreading.
At this time, no cases of Zika in Pennsylvania or in the continental U.S. have occurred as a result of locally acquired infections.
As temperatures risk in the Commonwealth and remain in place throughout the summer months, the risk of limited local transmission of Zika virus by the type of mosquitoes that potentially carry it will increase.
"In partnership with the Department of Health, we advise all Pennsylvanians to take precautions to reduce and control mosquito populations in their area and to take appropriate actions to protect themselves from mosquito bites," said Department of Environmental Protection Acting Secretary Patrick McDonnell. "DEP personnel and county partners are monitoring for the presence of mosquitoes that have the potential to transmit the Zika virus."
Although the Aedes aegypti mosquito remains the primary carrier of the Zika virus, Aedes albopictus has also been implicated as a secondary carrier of this disease. While Aedes aegypti has not been found in Pennsylvania since 2002, Aedes albopictus has been found throughout the major metropolitan areas of southern Pennsylvania.
These species are different from ones DEP currently surveys and require different tactics.
The Aedes types of mosquitoes that can potentially transmit the Zika virus bite during the daytime. To control all mosquitoes outside your home or business:
-- Install or repair and use window and door screens.
-- Once a week, empty and scrub, turn over, cover, or throw out any items that hold water like buckets, toys, pools, birdbaths or trash containers. Mosquitoes lay eggs near water.
-- Use an outdoor flying insect spray where mosquitoes rest – dark, humid areas like under patio furniture or under the carport or garage.
-- Have clogged roof gutters cleaned every year, particularly if the leaves from surrounding trees have a tendency to plug up the drains.
-- If you have a septic tank, repair cracks or gaps. Cover open vent or plumbing pipes with wire mesh that consists of holes smaller than an adult mosquito.
For more information, visit the Department of Health's Zika Virus webpage.