Travelers Encouraged to Avoid Mosquito Bites in Zika-affected Areas
Harrisburg, PA – The Pennsylvania Department of Health today announced the launch of the commonwealth’s new Zika Virus Prevention and Awareness Campaign. The campaign aims to increase awareness of the virus and urge Pennsylvanians traveling to Zika-affected areas, like Mexico, South America and the Caribbean, to take necessary precautions to avoid getting mosquito bites.
Beginning today, posters with Zika virus prevention tips will be in all airports that have international destinations, including flights departing from Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Erie, and Lehigh Valley. Posters will be displayed throughout commonwealth airports in various concourses, baggage claim areas, and lobby locations. Electronic versions of the poster can also be found on the department’s website at www.zika.pa.gov and are available in both English and Spanish.
“As many residents begin their summer vacations around this upcoming Fourth of July holiday weekend, our campaign urges Pennsylvanians who are traveling to destinations where Zika transmission is occurring to follow a few simple tips to protect themselves and their loved ones from mosquito bites,” said Health Secretary Dr. Karen Murphy. “If you are pregnant, the CDC recommends that pregnant women should avoid travel to any area where Zika is prevalent. Pregnant women who must travel to one of these areas should talk to their health care provider first and strictly follow necessary steps to prevent mosquito bites during their trip. After returning home, pregnant women should talk to their health care provider, even if they don’t feel sick.”
Because there currently is no vaccine or treatment for Zika virus, the best way to avoid contracting the virus is to prevent mosquito bites by:
- Using insect repellent products containing DEET;
- 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 disease can also be transmitted sexually, as well as by blood transfusions. The CDC advises men who have traveled to the Zika-affected areas to wear condoms consistently and correctly during sex to avoid spreading the virus to their partners. This is especially important for men whose partners are pregnant women or women who are of childbearing age, as the Zika virus has been linked to potentially severe birth defects in babies born to women who had the illness during pregnancy.
Travelers from Zika-affected areas should take precautions to avoid mosquito bites for three weeks after returning home, even if they are not experiencing symptoms, in order to limit the introduction of this virus to local mosquito populations. 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. Once warmer temperatures arrive in the commonwealth and remain in place throughout the summer months, the risk of limited local transmission of Zika virus by the type of mosquito that potentially carries it will increase.
“DEP and our county partners have begun monitoring for the presence of mosquitos potentially associated with Zika transmission, and we will work to implement control measures when necessary,” said Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “We encourage everyone to take commonsense precautions to reduce mosquito populations in their area and protect themselves from mosquito bites. Simple actions like cleaning gutters and emptying buckets can cut down on mosquito populations.”
Zika is a generally mild illness, and most individuals do not have any symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they can include fever, rash, joint or muscle pain, conjunctivitis (pink eye), or headache, and last from several days to one week.
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 new surveillance and control methods outlined in the plan that are needed to protect public health from this potential threat will require additional DEP resources.
The Aedes types of mosquitos that can potentially transmit the Zika virus bite during the daytime. To control all mosquitos 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, planters, toys, pools, birdbaths, flowerpot saucers, or trash containers. Mosquitos lay eggs near water.
- Use an outdoor flying insect spray where mosquitos 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. Roof gutters can produce millions of mosquitoes each season.
- 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.
Additional information on Zika virus can be found on the Department of Health’s website, www.zika.pa.gov.
MEDIA CONTACTS: Penny Ickes, DOH, 717-787-1783
Neil Shader, DEP, 717-787-1323Neil Shader, DEP, 717-787-1323
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