On Friday, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced the creation of a statewide task force to guide preparedness initiatives related to Zika virus, a mosquito-borne illness. Led by the Virginia Department of Health, the group will be responsible for coordinating with Virginia localities on mosquito surveillance and control programs prior to the start of mosquito season on May 1.
“Prevention and mitigation are our best strategies for keeping Virginians healthy,” said Governor McAuliffe. “The Virginia Department of Health’s mission to prevent the spread of infectious diseases makes it well-suited to lead this multi-agency task force. The collaboration of agencies statewide will be invaluable as we prepare for the coming mosquito season.”
Although Zika virus illness is usually mild, and severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises there is a possible association between Zika virus disease in pregnant women and subsequent birth defects.
“While individuals should take their own precautions against mosquito-borne illnesses, it’s important that state agencies, health care facilities and others collaborate to make sure we understand exactly what impact Zika might have on the Commonwealth and how we can work together to minimize it,” said Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dr. Bill Hazel.
Currently, travel to Zika-affected areas outside of the continental United States is the primary way Virginians are being exposed to Zika virus. CDC travelers’ health advisories are a valuable resource for reducing the risk of bringing Zika to Virginia.
“At this time, the risk of Zika virus being spread by mosquitoes in Virginia is low, but during mosquito season, mosquitoes do carry other viruses, like West Nile virus and Eastern equine encephalitis virus,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Marissa J. Levine. “We should all get in the habit of taking proactive measures to prevent mosquito-breeding spots and mosquito bites.”
According to the CDC, Virginia has reported 3 imported Zika virus cases to date. Nationally, 107 travel associated Zika virus cases have been reported.
In addition to the Department of Health and the Governor’s Office, the statewide Zika virus task force includes officials from the Department of Emergency Management, Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services, Department of General Services, Department of Education, Department of Health Professions, Department of Conservation and Recreation, Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Department of Forestry, Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, as well as federal and local authorities, hospitals, blood supply services, and mosquito control organizations.