Grant to fund Zika precautions in county

Centres for Disease Control

While a Penn State researcher has received funding to dig deeper into the spread of the Zika virus, Centre County will be receiving some state assistance in preventing the spread locally.

A Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection grant to the county will help fund measures to reduce the potential threat of the virus in the area while educating the public on ways to control mosquito populations.

The DEP announced a program to combat the Zika virus in the state in May, county senior planner Matt Milliron told County Commissioners Tuesday. The main goals of the program are to enhance Department of Health surveillance of Zika cases in the state, develop a plan that would save time by allowing testing for the virus to be done outside of the Centers for Disease Control, enhance surveillance and control of the two targeted species of mosquitoes that carry the virus — Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus — and collaborate between commonwealth agencies to educate pregnant women and the general public about the virus.

The first transmissions of Zika through mosquitoes in the U.S. was reported in Miami last week.

The county part of the plan will involve increased surveillance for the two types of mosquitoes, Milliron said, specifically looking within the Centre Region and highly populated areas. Mosquito populations can then be controlled by treating the breeding ground with BTI or application of pesticide — something the county does not often do.

“We think our risk is low,” Milliron said, “but I think to do nothing, the public wouldn’t stand for that.”

The Zika control mirrors the controls put in place for West Nile virus, he said. Surveillance for the virus in the county started July 1 and is expected to continue into late October.

The public education portion of the program will focus on the need to eliminate standing water around a person’s property, he said. Given that July was particularly dry, the recent rains in the area have created good conditions for a backlog of mosquitoes to lay their eggs.

Once the state funding comes through, he said, the county plans on purchasing BTI tablets to hand out to the community through municipal and county buildings, senior centers and possibly at the Grange Encampment and Fair.

State funding will also allow the county to purchase more traps for wider surveillance, he said.

According to a CDC map provided by Milliron showing the best estimate of the targeted mosquitoes’ range, the aegypti mosquito — the one more likely to transmit the virus — is only depicted in the southeastern portion of Pennsylvania. The albopictus, however, covers most of Pennsylvania.

The grant totals $16,524.28 and would run through the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2017, Milliron said. County Commissioners voted to add the grant to the consent agenda for next week’s meeting.

Jeremy Hartley: 814-231-4616, @JJHartleyNews