The departments of Health and Environmental Protection Monday participated in a tabletop exercise aimed at bolstering the Commonwealth's ability to respond to a potential situation involving local transmission of the Zika Virus in Pennsylvania.
"Exercises, like the tabletop discussion today, are a vital part of the commonwealth's ongoing efforts to be prepared for public health emergencies – like the Zika virus," said Secretary of Health Dr. Karen Murphy. "Conducting this exercise with the Department of Environmental Protection helps ensure we are better prepared to respond quickly and protect all Pennsylvanians if the Zika virus begins to spread locally in the Commonwealth."
Tabletop exercises are discussion-based sessions where team members meet in an informal setting to discuss their roles during an emergency and their responses to a particular emergency situation. These types of exercises help strengthen preparedness plans.
In the exercise, the fictitious scenario involved a Pennsylvania resident who traveled to Miami, Florida, and later tested positive for Zika after developing symptoms upon returning to the Commonwealth. As part of the scenario, the virus also spread to a young child in the same household. The child did not travel, indicating a local spread of the disease.
Participants in the tabletop exercise discussed the steps that would be taken by each of their agencies throughout the scenario timeline, including things like when the Pennsylvania Zika Virus Response Plan would be implemented and the measures that would be taken regarding vector control of mosquitoes.
Pennsylvania's Zika Virus Response Plan is a document that describes actions that will be taken as the risk of locally acquired cases of Zika increases in Pennsylvania. These actions are considered a phased response to the Zika virus.
"We have already been out to investigate and conduct further surveillance on several imported cases of Zika – today's exercise continued honing our skills and response efforts," said Acting Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell. "The best response is still prevention, however, and we encourage all Pennsylvanians to take common-sense actions to protect themselves from mosquitoes."
Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that generally causes no symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they are generally mild and include 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.
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.
This is the time of year when all Pennsylvanians should take preventive measures to prevent mosquito bites, including:
-- 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.
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; and
-- 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.
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.
Additional information on Zika virus can be found on the Department of Health's Zika Virus website.
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