Council Discusses Response to State’s First Case of Zika

The Town Council has directed town staff to determine the costs of a town-wide spraying program following news of the first confirmed case of the Zika virus in New Hampshire.

The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) confirmed that first case last week.

The woman contracted the virus through sexual contact with a man who was symptomatic and had traveled to a country with active Zika transmission. She has fully recovered and is not pregnant, according to the DHHS.

“Identifying cases in New Hampshire is not unexpected, although the most common means of transmission of the virus is through the bite of infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Sexual transmission is less common,” DHHS Acting Director of Public Health Marcella Bobinsky said in a press release. “Our greatest concern is for pregnant women who may be exposed to the virus through travel, or the travel of their partners because Zika has been associated with severe birth defects, including microcephaly.”

Richard Canuel, who serves as Londonderry’s public health officer, said the State is still discussing whether or not mosquitoes collected through their mosquito program will be tested for Zika because the mosquitoes that carry the virus are not indigenous to New Hampshire.

Londonderry will begin the Town’s mosquito control program in April, conducting surveillance, sampling mosquitoes and applying larvicide, which Canuel said is more effective than spraying large areas of town.

“We will be sending samples to the State Lab and my understanding is they will have some testing for Zika, and if they do discover the virus they would have a full testing program,” he said.

Robert Mackey, who serves as Derry’s Public Health Officer, said the Town will similarly begin its mosquito control program with contractor Dragon Mosquito and will continue to follow recommendations of the State as it works to address Zika.

In a presentation to the Town Council Monday evening, Dragon Mosquito President Sarah McGregor said that although the Aedes aegypti is limited to southern U.S. states, the Aedes albopictus, which is also capable of transmitting Zika, has been found in Massachusetts.

“Will there be a Zika outbreak in New Hampshire? It’s highly unlikely,” she said. “We don’t have the two main species of mosquitoes that transmit the virus. Right now, we don’t.”

But McGregor emphasized that her almost 40 years of experience as an entomologist have taught her insects can change their behaviors and habitat, noting the Aedes albopictus has been moving up the east coast and she believes it’s likely it will eventually make its way to New Hampshire.

Additionally, McGregor said experts believe it’s likely mosquito species other than the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus will prove capable of transmitting Zika.

For now, McGregor told the Council the control program it has in place will most effectively manage mosquito populations and limit the spread of diseases.

Dragon will begin collecting stagnant water in swampy areas and investigating the various mosquito species they find in late March or early April, according to McGregor.

Then the company applies larvicide to catch basins, storm drains and other man-made habitat to control the populations before they hatch.

“Londonderry had very little disease activity last summer. It was one of the driest summers on record,” said McGregor.

Canuel and McGregor advised against spraying, explaining it’s unnecessary and not as effective as larvicide treatment.

“I can’t imagine we would get to that because it’s such a limited effect,” Canuel said, explaining spraying only kills adult mosquitoes in a limited area, which is eventually repopulated.

“I think the effects of microcephaly on pregnancy are what’s going to be the main issue here,” Town Council chairman John Farrell said. “I would encourage the Council to encourage town staff to get an idea of what the cost of town-wide spraying would be and what’s involved in that so we can educate the public and people can make their own decisions. If I can save one baby, I’m in.”

“I think if we do sprays around the recreation fields for the kids there and expecting moms, that might be a good proactive approach,” Councilor Joe Green said.

McGregor said one of the most important things the Town can do is educate the public about Zika and the steps people can take to prevent transmission of the virus.

Because there aren’t any treatments or vaccines for Zika, prevention efforts are focused on preventing mosquito bites – avoiding travel to affected areas, using repellents containing DEET and wearing long sleeves and pants, according to the DHHS.

McGregor also underlined the importance of eliminating standing water outside the home, where mosquitoes lay their eggs.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued travel warnings for pregnant women; and the DHHS is encouraging college students and others who may be traveling to Zika-affected regions this spring, including South America, Central America, the Caribbean, Pacific Islands and U.S. territories, to take strict precautions against being bitten by mosquitoes.

Symptoms of the Zika infection include fever, rash, conjunctivitis and joint pain, but most people infected with the virus do not develop symptoms.

Because there aren’t any treatments or vaccines for Zika, prevention efforts are focused on preventing mosquito bites – avoiding travel to affected areas, using repellents containing DEET and wearing long sleeves and pants, according to the DHHS.

The State is working with the CDC to enhance its Public Health Laboratory testing capabilities, protocols and certifications for Zika.

Additionally, the DHHS has been working to inform healthcare providers and the public about Zika; issuing two Health Alerts, holding a webinar to educate health care providers on treatment and prevention of Zika, and launching a website with resources and information about the virus.

For more information about Zika, visit the State’s website at .

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