On Tuesday, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen joined City leaders to announce Baltimore City’s Zika Preparedness Plan to educate the public about the Zika virus and coordinate a citywide response to help prevent the spread of the virus. Baltimore’s Citywide Zika Plan will be the first in Maryland, and aims to serve as a model for other cities.

Aedes aegypti/CDC
Aedes aegypti/CDC

“An effective response to this disease will require a multi-agency approach to protect Baltimore City’s citizens from the potential spread of the Zika virus,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. “I am confident that the citywide plan announced today will minimize the impact that this virus might have on the quality of life in Baltimore’s communities.”

Zika is a disease spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito, which can be found in the Baltimore region. The disease caused by Zika virus has been known since 1947, and the first transmission outside of Asia and Africa was reported in 2007.

Up to 80 percent of people infected show no symptoms; others have generally mild symptoms including fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis (red eyes) and headaches. There is currently no vaccine available. Zika infection in pregnancy is linked tomicrocephaly, a serious birth defect in which a baby’s head is smaller than expected.

As of today, Maryland has had nine confirmed cases of Zika virus infection. All have been related to travel to areas with ongoing transmission; none have involved local transmission.

During mosquito season, there is the potential for local transmission in Baltimore if an individual with travel associated Zika is bitten by a mosquito and that mosquito then bites other residents. Infected mosquitoes can then spread the virus to other people through bites. Zika cannot be transmitted via casual contact (i.e. shaking someone’s hand), but can be transmitted through sexual contact. It can also be transmitted from a pregnant mother to her baby.

The World Health Organization declared Zika a global public health emergency earlier this year and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued travel guidance for pregnant women to postpone travel to Zika-affected countries.

In February 2016, Mayor Rawlings-Blake announced the formation of a Strategic Zika Preparedness Task Force. Chaired by Dr. Wen and the Health Department team, this Task Force convened high-level representatives from nearly 20 City agencies to determine recommendations and assess the capacity for a city-wide response to the Zika virus. The citywide plan announced today, based on the Working Group’s recommendations to prevent the potential spread of the Zika Virus in Baltimore, consists of two major components: Developing and implementing citywide mosquito control plan and conducting widespread public education.