Md. governor, health officials, outline Zika prevention

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) -- Gov. Larry Hogan and state health officials on Friday outlined a variety of measures the state is taking to monitor and prevent the Zika virus in Maryland, where there have been 12 cases reported.

The governor authorized an additional $250,000 to promote Zika prevention and awareness, capping a week that he already had designated as Maryland Zika Awareness Week.

"We want all of our citizens to know that all levels of government are working together to respond to threats to public health," Hogan said. "At this point, the most important thing we can do is to increase awareness of this virus, which is why last week I issued a statewide proclamation declaring this Zika Virus Awareness Week in Maryland."

Many people infected with the Zika virus do not get sick. For those who do, it is usually a mild illness with symptoms including fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes. But infections in pregnant women have been linked to brain defect and fetal deaths, and have become an international public health concern.

The virus is transmitted by infected mosquitoes that have actively been transmitting the virus in the Caribbean, South America and Central America. There has been no local transmission from Maryland mosquitoes. The virus also can be transmitted sexually, and some of the cases in Maryland have been sexually transmitted, the governor said. Dr. Howard Haft, deputy secretary of public health in Maryland, said Friday some of the Maryland cases could involve pregnant women.

There have been 426 cases of Zika reported in the U.S. -- all linked to travel to outbreak areas. But officials think it's likely some small clusters of Zika infections will occur in the U.S. when mosquito numbers boom.

"It is an emergency," Hogan said. "That's why we're trying to raise so much awareness. We've got a great team that's working on it together with our federal partners and our local partners. At this point it seems to be manageable, but we want to hope for the best and be prepared for the worst."

Dan Schamberger, program manager of mosquito control at the state's agriculture department, urged residents to check for containers holding water around their homes where mosquitoes could breed and turn them over. He also urged residents to take precautions to avoid getting bitten by the insects by using repellant and wearing light-colored and loose fitting clothing. He said the state is ready to respond swiftly, if Zika cases are reported that are believed to be due to mosquito activity, by spraying areas where a case has been found. Follow-up inspections and treatments also will be used.

"These in combination should hopefully allow us to eliminate the mosquito potential and break the transmission cycle of the virus," Schamberger said.

The state's transportation department also is working to raise awareness among travelers to places where the disease is being transmitted by educating them about how to prevent the virus and what symptoms to be aware of when they return.