While the World Health Organization recently declared the Zika virus a global health emergency, some Baldwin County officials and Mobile-area laboratories are preparing to fight the spread of the mosquito-borne virus.
According to WHO, Zika infection is suspected of leading to microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with underdeveloped brains and below-average head size. According to the National Institutes of Health, trials of a Zika vaccine could begin later this year and a vaccine made available to the public by 2018.
In the meantime, a recent BBC News report showed the Mobile area and the broader Gulf Coast as potentially having a high distribution of Aedes mosquitoes, which transmit the Zika virus.
On June 6 LabCorp announced it would offer a Zika virus test at all of its locations for patients who meet clinical or epidemiological criteria for infection risk as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The test, which requires blood and urine specimens, is available for order by physicians.
The CDC’s criteria for Zika testing includes signs and symptoms of the virus, recent history of residence in or travel to a geographic region with active virus transmission as well as any male sexual partners with such a residence or travel history.
“The Zika virus is a serious public health threat, and many people are concerned about the risk it presents to them and their families,” LabCorp chairman and chief executive officer David P. King said.
According to LabCorp, the Zika virus has been identified in 618 individuals in the U.S. as of June 1. Every case has involved individuals who traveled to areas with ongoing transmission of the virus, such as South American and Central American countries where the virus has been active since 2015.
LabCorp stressed the test has not been cleared or approved by the Food and Drug Administration, but it has been authorized by the FDA under an emergency-use authorization for use by high-complexity laboratories and qualified non-U.S. laboratories. The test is only authorized for use as long as the circumstances exist for its justification.
“Public health officials anticipate that the U.S. will become an area of active Zika virus transmission this year,” said Marcia Eisenberg, Ph.D., chief scientific officer for LabCorp Diagnostics. “LabCorp is pleased to support the effort to help identify and minimize human transmission of this disease in the U.S. by offering the RealStar Zika Virus RT-PCR Kit U.S. as a new tool that can help to improve health and improve lives.”
Quest Diagnostics, which contracts with Infirmary Health for laboratory services, announced in April it was also authorized to offer a Zika test, which was expected to become available in May. Until April, Zika tests were only available through the CDC and only used in qualified laboratories designated by the CDC.
Some Baldwin County officials are taking action to try to prevent the virus from reaching their borders.
In Fairhope on June 14, city officials will distribute larvicide tablets from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the Fairhope Civic Center. The tablets, which are intended to kill mosquito larvae before they emerge as adults, will also be available at the city’s warehouse Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. Larvicide tablets can also be picked up at Baldwin County Health Department offices in Robertsdale and Bay Minette.
“Mosquitoes are something we have to deal with in the South; they pass around viruses and now, they pass the Zika virus,” Fairhope Assistant Public Works Director Arthur Bosarge said. “Zika has been reported six hours from here and came from Brazil. The city of Fairhope wants to be proactive.”
At a recent Fairhope City Council meeting Bosarge said a Fairhope Public Works truck sprays CedarCide, an insecticide made from cedar oil, to combat mosquitoes four days per week. The truck also sprays at the city’s recreation fields at Volanta Park every morning because of the high volume of children there in the evenings.
In Elberta, town officials have distributed more than 3,000 postcards with Zika warnings to the town’s residents within the city limits and police jurisdiction. On June 1, the town also began enforcing its 2009 nuisance ordinance, requiring residents to remove old tires, clean up unkempt grass and remove areas with standing water. Town Councilman John Conti said a handful of residents had already begun to clean up their yards voluntarily before June 1.
Conti has personally voiced his concerns about mosquito control and Zika to the Baldwin County Commission and to the town. He said the county sprays for mosquitoes in all unincorporated areas, which is good, but it always skips over Elberta, which Conti said does not have its own licensed spraying vehicle.
“We have seen in Elberta where the truck will come in from the county, stop spraying in Elberta, but pick up on the other side of town and start spraying again,” Conti said. “Elberta is not that big, and I would like to know why, if they are driving through town anyway, the don’t just keep spraying.”
In 2012 the city of Daphne adopted its mosquito management program, which is a mix of educational mosquito awareness programs, surveillance and “environmentally safe” methods of control, which include a Public Works Department distribution of larvicide tablets for use in areas of standing water.
In 2003 the Baldwin County Health Department started its comprehensive mosquito control program. County workers survey areas with standing water and monitor adult mosquito activity with traps. The county distributes larvicide tablets at its animal shelter in Summerdale and offices in Robertsdale and Bay Minette.
“It is important to note that the Zika virus is not transmitting between mosquitoes and humans at this time in the United States,” Baldwin County Health Department environmentalist Rachel Beck said. “Every case of Zika in America has been the case of someone who traveled outside the country then came back. At this point, we are being proactive and watching things.”