Vermont given federal money to assess spread of Zika-carrying mosquitoes in area

BRANDON — State officials say they will use a new pot of federal money to keep an eye out for mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus and to educate health care providers who may see people with the tropical disease.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control this month awarded a $200,000 grant to the state of Vermont to address the threat of the Zika virus. The money will be split between the state Agency of Agriculture and the Department of Health and used to trap and test mosquitos as well as to educate health providers and the public about the virus.
The Zika virus spreads to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito (Aedes aegypti and Aedes aldopictus), although Aedes aegypti are more likely to spread Zika. Zika infection can also be sexually transmitted.
There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika and many people who are infected have no symptoms. Of those who do have symptoms, the most common complaints are fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (red eyes). Most notably, Zika infection during pregnancy can cause microcephaly, or abnormally undersized brains and craniums, and other severe defects in the developing fetus.
It is much more likely in Vermont that Zika would be transmitted by person-to-person contact than through the bite of a mosquito. According to State Entomologist Allen Graham, neither of the two species of mosquito that carry Zika is currently present in the state.
“I feel that transmission of Zika by mosquito will not be possible in Vermont,” Graham said. “I’m more worried about West Nile Virus than I am about Zika.”
Of the two carrier species, Aedes aegypti is also a known carrier of dengue and yellow fever, but favors much warmer climates. Graham said that species would not be seen north of the Carolinas.
Aedes aldopictus, however, is a common nuisance mosquito in New Jersey and Delaware, and has been found in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Graham said the Agency of Agriculture’s cut of the CDC funding will be spent on looking for, trapping and hatching Aedes aldopictus in the lab using ova positioning traps. Graham described them as resembling black beer cups and containing fermented water. The traps are placed where mosquitoes are known to lay eggs, then gathered and brought to the state lab. The eggs are hatched in the lab and the mosquitoes are reared until adulthood, when officials will determine if any of the species are Aedes aldopictus.
The laboratory process takes four days. Graham said the traps will likely be placed along the interstate highways and at truck stops.
“They are difficult to trap,” Graham said. “I am not expecting to find aldopictus up here, but we will try hard to find them.”
Bradley Tompkins is the state epidemiologist for the Department of Health. He said his office will use a portion of the CDC funding to help create a surveillance system among health providers to capture and treat Zika virus cases.
There are currently six known cases of Zika in Vermont, Tompkins said.
“We want to make providers aware of the symptoms and risk factors in patients for Zika,” he said. “That’s one obstacle we’ve had to overcome. It’s a new disease and we have to familiarize providers with when and how a patient should be tested.”
The CDC award will also help the state ensure that affected infants and their families are referred to appropriate health and social services. The funding will also enable monitoring the health and developmental outcomes of children affected by Zika.
Tompkins said the Department of Health portion of the funding will be used to for outreach to educate the public and providers about the risk of sexually transmitting the disease.
“Without the transmitting mosquito here, person-to-person would be the best way for Zika to be transmitted in Vermont,” Tompkins said.
He added that in a northern state that sees winter travel to warmer climates, it is important that the public know how to protect against the virus when traveling.
“We need to be sure that Vermonters are aware of the risks and the preventative steps they need to take to prevent Zika if they are traveling to Puerto Rico, Jamaica or south Florida,” he said.
The CDC and the state of Vermont encourages everyone, especially pregnant women and women planning to become pregnant, to protect themselves from mosquito bites to avoid possible Zika virus infection.
The funds were provided to states and territories based on their risk of Zika virus transmission, population need, and availability of funds. These funds are in addition to $25 million awarded July 1 as part of CDC’s preparedness and response funding to areas at risk for outbreaks of Zika. Funding amounts for the 40 states and territories receiving the assistance range from $200,000-$720,000.
“It is critical to identify infants affected by Zika so we can support them and their families,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden. “This CDC funding provides real-time data about the Zika epidemic as it unfolds in the United States and territories and will help those most devastated by this virus.”
What you can do to avoid mosquito bites:
• Limit your time outside from dusk to dawn when mosquitoes are most active.
• Wear long sleeves and long pants when outdoors while mosquitoes are biting.
• Use EPA-registered insect repellents that are labeled as effective against mosquitoes. Use repellents that contain no more than 30 percent DEET for adults and children. Do not use DEET on infants younger than 2 months of age. Repellants with picaridin and lemon eucalyptus are also effective.
• Get rid of standing water, and drain areas where water can pool: rain gutters, wading pools, old tires, etc. This is where mosquitoes breed.
• Install or repair screens on windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out.

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