Reading – June 9, 2016 – At the request of state Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks), the Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a roundtable discussion today on Pennsylvania’s Zika Virus response plan that focused on measures available for state, local and health officials to educate the public about potential health impacts.

“While I’m pleased to see that our state has already put an extensive plan into place, it is imperative that we do all we can to track the spread of this virus and to keep people informed about how they can best protect themselves,” Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton/ Lehigh) said. “Today’s hearing is aimed at making sure government is doing all it can to coordinate the best possible statewide response.”

Boscola serves as Democratic chair of the Democratic Policy Committee.

Schwank, who serves as the Democratic chair of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, said “this effort will require a great deal of cooperation and coordination between state, federal and local agencies. It is imperative that we get this right and do this right.”

The Zika virus was first detected in Brazil over a year ago. Spread by infected mosquitos, the virus generally causes very mild symptoms and rarely leads to serious side effects. However, it does pose a serious threat to pregnant women because the infection can cause birth defects.

Experts at the hearing said the risk for Pennsylvanians is low, but the Ebola scare taught lessons about being prepared for things to change.

“As a community and as a state, we’re going to collaborate. It’s cirtical that our communication is clear and that it provides honest information,” said Marie Keim, Director of Epidemiology, Infection Control and Prevention, Reading Hospital. “Whether it’s twitter, whether it’s facebook, whether it’s the news, it’s important that we’re getting it out in a language that is easy to understand.

As of May 2, there were no reports of the virus being spread by mosquitoes in the continental United States yet. However, Pennsylvania does have 19 confirmed cases of people who have the virus — with 178 test results still pending.

Dr. Jason Rasgon, Associate Professor of Entomology and Disease Epidemiology at Penn State University noted the rapid manner in which research and information on Zika evolves. “I would say something and it would be outdated the next day,” Dr. Rasgon said. “That’s how quickly things are changing.”

The Wolf Administration has already established an extensive Zika response plan that outlines the phases of education, tracking, and response activities that are to occur based on various levels of mosquito activity in Pennsylvania.

Boscola credited the plan for including public awareness and education. She also said it would be critical for government agencies to work closely together to assure that the state is as prepared as possible. The state Department of Health has already set up a website on the virus at www.zika.pa.gov.

The best way to prevent mosquito bites is to use an insect repellant, take steps to keep mosquitoes out of your home; reduce standing water outside; and wear long sleeves and pants outdoors.

Joining the senators for the roundtable discussion were:

  • Loren Robinson, Deputy Secretary for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, PA Department of Health
  • Dana Aunkst, Deputy Secretary of Water Programs, PA Department of Environmental Protection
  • Jason Rasgon, Assoc. Prof. of Entomology and Disease Epidemiology, Pennsylvania State University
  • Robert S. Jones, D.O., Medical Director, Infection Prevention, Reading Health System
  • Marie Keim, Director of Epidemiology, Infection Control and Prevention, Reading Hospital
  • Dean Druckenmiller, ‎District Executive, Berks County Conservation District

 

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