Health and Mental Hygiene working with CDC to monitor Zika activity, coordinate testing

 Baltimore, MD (February 5, 2016) – The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has been monitoring the activity and transmission of the Zika virus, a mosquito-borne virus that has caused the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to issue travel warnings for pregnant women.

Health and Mental Hygiene is monitoring the national and global situations and is in frequent communication with the CDC. The department regularly communicates with and distributes guidance to Maryland hospitals, healthcare providers and the public. The Department is maintaining situational awareness and facilitating testing of individuals who have traveled to areas with ongoing Zika transmission – with an emphasis on pregnant women.

“Our department has been very active in responding to the developing Zika situation. We are providing up-to-date CDC guidance to Maryland healthcare providers, laboratories, and health departments.” said Secretary Van T. Mitchell. “To date, we have not had a confirmed case of Zika in Maryland. However, we are aware of Marylanders’ concerns about risks related to the virus, and we are working closely with healthcare providers to expedite testing, particularly for pregnant women.”

“We have sent samples from travelers to affected countries to the CDC to test, and we are awaiting test results,” said Public Health Deputy Secretary Dr. Howard Haft. “We encourage Marylanders who have questions about how their travel histories might affect their risk to consult their physicians.” 

Marylanders and other travelers to our area returning from regions with ongoing Zika transmission, such as the Caribbean and Central and South America, may have been exposed to the virus. As such, the arrival of travelers makes it likely that Maryland will see confirmed cases of infection. Three Washington, D.C., residents and one Virginia resident, all of whom traveled to areas with ongoing transmission, have tested positive for Zika.

According to the CDC, the virus chiefly is transmitted through mosquito bite, though there also more have been reports of transmission through blood transfusion and sexual contact. 

Symptoms of Zika may include fever, rash, conjunctivitis and joint pains. But the CDC has emphasized that not all people who become infected with the virus display symptoms, even throughout the course of infection that can last several days to a week. The CDC says, in fact, about one in five people will display symptoms.

Currently, most state health departments do not have capacity for doing Zika testing; however, the Health and Mental Hygiene public health laboratory expects to be able to test for Zika in the next two weeks. Meanwhile, we are sending all samples directly to the CDC labs for analysis.  We will keep the public informed on positive tests through weekly updates. Health and Mental Hygiene’s Communications Office will serve as the point of contact for media inquiries into Zika updates.

There is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat Zika. Persons who are concerned that they may have been exposed to Zika virus or who have symptoms of Zika virus infection should talk to their healthcare provider because symptoms of illness can be caused by a number of different ailments. Because we are in the midst of flu season, we encourage Marylanders to get a flu shot.

Health and Mental Hygiene will continue to rely on the best, most accurate and current information concerning this disease as presented and confirmed by the CDC. The CDC continues to investigate what link there might be between Zika cases in pregnant women and infants born with microcephaly, a birth defect where a baby’s head is smaller than expected when compared with those of babies of the same sex and age. Babies with microcephaly often have smaller brains that might not have developed properly.

Health and Mental Hygiene is working with the Maryland Department of Agriculture to prepare for upcoming warmer temperatures when mosquito activity will increase and where that activity could affect residents’ health. As a rule, during warmer months, residents should work to eliminate standing water around their homes that could facilitate breeding grounds for the insects. Agriculture’s Mosquito Control program can be found at http://goo.gl/A1K6YP. For more information on Zika, visit our website at http://goo.gl/6Jz7W5 or the CDC’s site at http://www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html.

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The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is the state government agency that protects Maryland’s public health.  We work together to promote and improve the health and safety of all Marylanders through disease prevention, access to care, quality management, and community engagement. Stay connected:  www.twitter.com/MarylandDHMH  and www.facebook.com/MarylandDHMH. ​