Zika Virus Task Force Established in Greenwich

As officials across the U.S. prepare for more travel-associated cases of the Zika virus and the likelihood of mosquito-borne transmission, Greenwich First Selectman Peter Tesei has establishment of a local Zika Virus Task Force to combat the spread of the virus locally.

As of May 31, 2016, there have been 591 travel-associated Zika virus disease cases reported in the U.S. and no locally acquired vector-borne cases reported. Zika virus is spread most commonly through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito (primary mosquito vector) or Aedes albopictus mosquito.

According to state officials, the State of Connecticut does not have Aedes aegypti mosquitoes; however Aedes albopictus mosquitoes which can carry the virus are found in areas of southwestern Connecticut (includes Greenwich). Unlike other mosquito-borne viruses, Zika causes birth defects and neurological disorders in infants born to women who were pregnant when they were exposed to the virus. In addition, the virus can be transmitted sexually by infected men to their partners. Most Zika virus infections exhibit no symptoms and when illness does occur, it is mild and may go unnoticed. Death from the Zika virus is rare in all ages; however, recently in the U.S. jurisdiction of Puerto Rico, a death has occurred in an elderly man.

There is no available vaccine to prevent Zika virus infection and no specific treatment for Zika virus-related illness. The best prevention at this time is to avoid mosquito bites, especially if travel is necessary to countries/territories where there is Zika virus transmission. Pregnant women and women planning to become pregnant soon should postpone travel to Zika-affected areas.

Protection against mosquito bites include measures such as making sure that window and door screens are in, using Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered insect repellants according to the manufacturer’s directions, wearing long-sleeved shirts/pants when possible and using mosquito netting when sleeping outdoors.

The most effective way to stop the spread of Zika virus in the mosquito population in Connecticut and Greenwich before it appears is to eliminate mosquito breeding sites early on. The Aedes albopictus mosquito is an aggressive daytime biter that is strongly attracted to humans and can breed in any container (large or small) that collects water.

First Selectman Tesei said, “I believe the town, residents and commercial property owner(s) need to work together as a team to eliminate sources of standing water on their property. Once this virus gets into the mosquito population, it will be hard to control the spread. Therefore, it should be a joint effort to get rid of old tires, buckets, containers, plastic bags and other items capable of collecting water.”

“It is through this collective effort that Zika virus will be unable to breed in the mosquito population and as a result, circulate in the community,” Tesei said.

Greenwich Director of Health Caroline CBaisley will be appointed Chairman of thetask force, along with key members of her staff.

Representatives from Town agencies and organizations including the Board of Health, Office of the First Selectman, and the Police, Fire, Parks and Recreation, Public Works and Conservation departments, as well as the Board of Education, will be asked to serve. The mission of the Zika Virus Task Force will include the development of a response plan that addresses controlling the mosquito population throughout the town by modifying and/or treating mosquito-breeding habitats. Educational material will also be distributed about Zika virus to the public, various community establishments and businesses.

The Department of Health Division of Environmental Services will continue to receive complaints about standing water from the public and will develop a compliance program to address violations. In coordination with the State Department of Public Health, the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (CAES) will carry out their annual mosquito trapping and testing program at 91 locations (including 3 sites in Greenwich) throughout the State from June through October 2016. The CAES routinely screens for mosquito-borne viruses such as West Nile Virus (WNV) which appear in the mosquito population in Greenwich annually and this year Zika virus will be added to the screening list.

For the media, for more information or questions, please contact the Health Department at 203-622-7836.