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Education, collaboration are key tactics in Pinellas’ war on Zika

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

As officials investigate the first non-travel-related case of Zika in Pinellas, they’re stepping up their efforts in educating residents and enlisting their help to eradicate the mosquito that carries the virus.

The educational efforts are an offshoot of a partnership between Pinellas County mosquito control and the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County.

“So, in terms of intervention, it’s really working with mosquito control. I think we have a great partnership,” Dr. Ulyee Choe, the Pinellas Health Department director, told Pinellas County commissioners on Tuesday.

“Once we are notified of a suspect case, we do notify mosquito control so they can target their mosquito control effort around the vicinity where [the victims] reside,” Choe said.

Choe made his comments Tuesday, the day Gov. Rick Scott announced Pinellas had a confirmed case of non-travel-related Zika. Choe cautioned that one case does not make an epidemic. It does not even make “active transmission.” That would take at least two to three cases of non-travel-related Zika.

“Basically, what active transmission means is that local mosquitoes are spreading the virus as opposed to travel-related cases getting infected somewhere else and then bringing it back and presenting with those type of symptoms,” Choe said.

Right now, he said, the county is waiting to see if any other cases develop. While that’s happening, he said, the Health Department is offering free Zika testing for pregnant women at all of its clinical sites in St. Petersburg, Pinellas Park, Clearwater and Tarpon Springs.

The Health Department also expects to have available, in the next day or two, mosquito kits for all pregnant women who would like one. The kits contain repellent and Permethrin, as well as condoms, because Zika can be sexually transmitted.

The Health Department, Choe said, will also continue its prevention campaign that includes “door-to-door education and provide any spraying as needed …. We will continue to work with the community to get the information out there. Working with the medical community to update them on any guidelines, working with hospitals, businesses, schools, getting some educational materials out there. Homeless shelters, as well as those that travel abroad.”

Education is a message St. Petersburg is taking seriously. Mayor Rick Kriseman on Tuesday designated Dean Adamides, the division chief of emergency management in the St. Petersburg Fire Rescue Department, to oversee the city’s response to the Zika threat.

Adamides said Wednesday that, right now, the main goal is to continue to cooperate with the county and health department and to educate residents about the virus and mosquito control.

“The best thing we can do is educate,” Adamides said. Those efforts, he said, have been ongoing but will be escalated in light of the non-travel-related case.

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