Lack of funding, traps hamper Zika prevention efforts in Ohio

With no federal funding for Zika virus prevention coming anytime soon, local health officials will concentrate on trapping mosquitoes and public education. But even those efforts have been slowed because traps ordered by the Ohio Department of Health haven’t been delivered.

Some area officials say money is tight because funds will have to be diverted from regular programs to battle Zika — a disease that can cause serious birth defects including microcephaly — just as mosquito season enters its peak.

“We’re hoping to get soon some traps through the Ohio Department of Health that will help us identify Zika-infected mosquitoes if they’re found in this area,” said Dan Suffoletto of Public Health — Dayton & Montgomery County.

“We will put some out in various areas just as a precaution to see what we may find.”

Ohio has 16 confirmed cases of Zika, including its first through sexual transmission. The state health department said a 61-year-old woman in Lucas County contracted the virus after her husband traveled to a country with active Zika transmission.

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, 820 cases of the virus have been diagnosed in the U.S. as of June 22.

Four months ago, the Obama administration asked Congress for $1.9 billion in emergency funding to battle Zika. On Thursday, the House of Representatives adjourned until July 5.

The federal government has redirected more than $85 million for state, local and territorial health officials to use to identify and investigate possible Zika outbreaks.

Patricia Burg, director of the Butler County health board, said that county lost about 10 percent from two of its grants, or between $25,000 and $30,000. She said the money is earmarked to provide services throughout the county as well as shared services with the county’s major cities.

Burg said the county hopes to purchase some trapping systems so mosquitoes can be caught and sent to the Department of Health to be tested.

Clark County Health Commissioner Charles Patterson expects a Zika case eventually, most likely from a person returning from a place where Zika is prevalent.

Mosquitoes that carry Zika aren’t likely to be prevalent in Ohio, Patterson said, because it won’t be hot enough for long enough this summer. But the threat exists even if Zika has not yet been known to mutate. That would allow the virus to be carried by more common mosquitoes in Ohio.

“When we do get a case we’re going to take appropriate action so we’re not spreading it into mosquitoes, which in turn spread it to additional people,” Patterson said. “That’s what we’re most focused on.”

Department of Health spokesperson Melanie Amato had no comment about federal funding for Zika, but did say: “State and local public health officials in Ohio have been preparing since January for Zika virus, making sure that mosquito control efforts were in place, and conducting a public awareness campaign to raise awareness about the virus and the importance of preventing mosquito-borne and sexual transmission of the virus.”

Middletown Health Director Jackie Phillips said the key to limiting the chance of getting bit by a Zika-carrying mosquito is to eliminate standing water, especially in old tires. That includes flower pots, gutters, and areas around drains, she said. Phillips said mosquitoes can breed in water as shallow as a bottle cap.

“Prevention is key,” she said.

Patterson said Zika-carrying mosquitoes bite more often in the daytime between 8 and 10 a.m. and 4 and 6 p.m.

“They’re aggressive and they’ll come right up at you and try to bite you,” he said.

Staff writer Rick McCrabb and contributing writer Jeff Gilbert contributed to this report.

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