Cities on frontline of Zika defense

With the recent emergence and rapid spread of the Zika virus abroad, government leaders at all levels have been working to understand the disease and how to prevent, detect and respond to it. Although no cases of local mosquito-borne transmission of the Zika virus have been confirmed in the United States, there have been hundreds of travel-associated cases reported, including in South Carolina.

Before 2015, Zika virus outbreaks occurred in areas of Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. In May 2015, Zika virus infections were reported in Brazil, and currently outbreaks are occurring in many countries in South America, Central America and the Caribbean. Cases also have been reported in U.S. territories.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Zika will continue to spread and it will be difficult to determine how and where the virus will appear over time.

As of April 29, there was one confirmed travel-associated case of Zika virus in the state with more anticipated in the coming months.

Local government officials have a key role to play in preventing and responding to the threat of Zika through mosquito abatement and public education.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control recently convened a forum of state and local officials to discuss the Zika virus and resources available to local governments in recognition of their role as the front-line defense against the spread of any mosquito-borne viruses.

It is important for local officials to have mosquito control plans in place. In areas where funding is a concern, the key is to focus on public education and eliminating water-filled containers where mosquitoes breed. "Mosquito control plans can involve many municipal departments, including public works, code enforcement and communications, so it’s important that all local officials and staff members understand their respective roles," advised Dr. Chris Evans, entomologist at DHEC.

For cities and towns that do not have their own mosquito control plans, a good option would be to partner with other entities that have this capability. Neighboring cities or the county government may be willing to enter into an intergovernmental agreement to provide for mosquito treatment, such as larviciding and adulticiding. Contracting with commercial vendors is another option.

Code enforcement can play an important role in abatement efforts. Cities and towns should develop and enforce local ordinances aimed at cleaning up properties that harbor mosquito breeding areas.

"Anything that can hold even an ounce of water and is allowed to stand four to seven days is a potential mosquito-breeding area," Evans said. "Although Zika virus is transmitted by mosquitoes that breed in water-filled containers, local governments should also manage standing water in roadside ditches and other areas by clearing blockages, using fill dirt to promote the flow of water or using methods to treat mosquito larvae. Also, unkempt properties are prime mosquito-breeding areas that local officials can address through code-enforcement ordinances."

Educating the public about the dangers of mosquito-borne illness should be an integral part of any mosquito abatement plan. Local officials should utilize all available communication tools, including social media, to inform the public about the virus and how to stop its spread.

Multiple resources are available to help officials develop and implement local mosquito control plans. SCDHEC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Clemson University’s Department of Pesticide Regulation, the SC Mosquito Control Association and the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health all offer valuable information.

The Association will offer a breakout session at the July Annual Meeting about the role of municipal leaders during a public health crisis. The session will cover both the Zika virus and opioid abuse.