As Zika virus reaches Hillsborough County, commissioners request action plan
TAMPA — A day after state health officials reported two Zika virus cases in Hillsborough County, the county commission on Wednesday directed county staff to assess local preparations to combat the disease.
In both of Hillsborough’s reported cases — two of the six new cases reported in the state — it's believed the individuals contracted the virus while traveling outside of Florida. Nevertheless, Hillsborough Public Works Director John Lyons said the county will increase the number of mosquito traps and closely monitor those populations to see if any are carrying the virus.
If mosquito populations jump in any areas, Lyons said the county will increase spraying.
Lyons added that residents should be vigilant in removing standing water from their property to help keep mosquitos at bay.
At the request of Commissioner Al Higginbotham and backed by commissioners Wednesday, Lyons and the public health department will come back with a plan of action at a future meeting.
In the meantime, Commissioner Sandy Murman, who represents Hillsborough’s coastal regions, said staff must immediately help spread information about the disease to the public. That’s especially true of neighborhood groups who can help get the word out, Murman said, and obstetricians and gynecologists with pregnant patients.
“I don’t want to wait until the next meeting,” Murman said. “People are having questions right now.”
The World Health Organization on Monday declared a global emergency as the Zika virus quickly spreads. Zika gained international attention after health organizations observed a sharp increase in newborns in South America with brain defects as a result of the virus.
Commissioner Stacy White said health officials should also look into reports that the virus can be spread through sexual contact.
“I would ask that as we engage the department of health and put out a public service announcement that it’s comprehensive in nature and goes beyond (mosquitoes),” White said.
Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday also declared a public health emergency in Hillsborough, Lee, Miami-Dade and Santa Rosa counties because of recent outbreaks of the Zika virus there.
“Although Florida’s current nine Zika cases were travel-related,” the governor said in a statement, “we have to ensure Florida is prepared and stays ahead of the spread of the Zika virus in our state.”
The governor signed executive order 16-29 which orders Surgeon General John Armstrong to declare a public health emergency in those areas. It directed the Commissioner of Agriculture to issue a “mosquito declaration” in Hillsborough, Lee, Miami-Dade and Santa Rosa counties. The governor’s order says “special attention” should be given to spraying residential areas for mosquitoes And it ordered the Florida Department of Health to figure out where in the state it needs to dedicate more resources and provide more information to stop the spread of the Zika virus.
Residents can learn more about the county’s mosquito control efforts at hillsboroughcounty.org/mosquitoes.