With cases of Zika reported in nearly every U.S. state, Connecticut officials are rolling out a detection program for the virus that’s been linked to birth defects.
Governor Dannel Malloy says the precautionary measures come as Connecticut has confirmed 31 cases of the mosquito-borne virus, three of them pregnant women. More than 470 people have been tested. Dr. Raul Pino, the commissioner of the state’s department of public health, says the agency is partnering with community health centers and hospitals to each test 10 people a week who have not traveled to the Caribbean or warmer areas of the Americas where Zika is more prevalent, but who have similar symptoms.
“Rash, conjunctivitis and muscular ache,” Pino said. “The idea is that we are looking to potentially catch cases that may be related to local transmission either by mosquito or sexual transmission.”
Pino says the health department does not expect the virus to be transmitted by mosquitoes in Connecticut, but rather through sexual contact. All of the confirmed cases in the state are travel-related. Still, Malloy says the Asian Tiger mosquito, which does carry the virus, has been detected in Connecticut.
“Now that is a secondary vector, so it’s a secondary carrier,” Malloy said. “It is capable of carrying the virus. It has carried it in Asia. So obviously we want to monitor where that is. The sentinel system that the doctor has described will enlarge or shrink depending on where we find the Asian Tiger mosquito.”
DPH is deploying the program at hospitals in Stratford, Bridgeport and Stamford along with community health centers in the southern part of the state for the time being. Zika has been linked to birth defects such as babies being born with small heads, or microcephaly. In June the state started trapping mosquitoes at 91 locations across Connecticut as it does every year. Special traps are used to catch the Asian Tiger mosquito largely along the coast from Greenwich to New Haven. Theodore Andreadis directs the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven where the mosquitoes are tested. He says more than 90,000 have been tested this year.
“Thus far we have found no mosquitoes infected with Zika virus,” Andreadis said. “However we have already detected one batch of mosquitoes infected with West Nile Virus. These were collected in Stamford. This is totally anticipated. We are entering the West Nile Virus season. I know there is a lot of concern with the possible introduction and establishment of Zika in the state, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that West Nile Virus is here. It reemerges every year.”
Since testing began around 2000, Andreadis says there have been 130 human cases of West Nile Virus in Connecticut with three deaths. Last year there were 10 human cases. With warmer temperatures in the forecast, Andreadis expects more West Nile infections among mosquitoes. Malloy says people should take precautions to prevent mosquitoes swarming near their homes, such as getting rid of standing water.
“Bug spray is the best way to do it,” Malloy said. “Long sleeves and long pants, particularly in the hours when mosquitoes are most active. Protecting children makes all the sense in the world.”
Calling it an emergency situation, Malloy says he does not see any budgetary issues with funding the program even as the state is juggling a deficit. Connecticut has requested more than $900,000 from the federal government to fund its Zika programs, already receiving more than $320,000. Recent Zika cases in Florida and Utah are being investigated for local transmission, partly prompting Connecticut’s latest action.