Essex County and local town officials in Maplewood and South Orange say they have been stepping up communication, training and inspections ahead of mosquito season in light of the potential threat of the Zika virus.
Zika has generated news this year as it has spread from Brazil to points as far north as Puerto Rico. It is a virus which can cause catastrophic birth defects as well as neurological problems. Zika can be sexually transmitted, but it is more quickly spread via mosquito (although the mosquito that carries Zika is not native to our area), according to the CDC. No vaccine has been developed yet for Zika.
Essex County and Maplewood officials have been talking about Zika at least since the February 2 Maplewood Board of Health meeting. At that meeting, the Essex County liaison to Maplewood, Deborah Collins, assured the Township Committee (which acts as the Board of Health) and Health Officer Robert Roe that the County’s “very comprehensive mosquito control program” in which the “County does lab work, field work and analysis of any findings having to do with potential mosquito-borne diseases” was ongoing.
“I don’t want the public to be concerned in the least that the County isn’t paying attention to this issue,” said Collins.
At the April Maplewood Board of Health meeting, Roe updated the Maplewood Township Committee on a March 30 meeting held by the County:
“I want to report that at the end of [March], the Essex County Executive, their administrator, their public works director, and their mosquito control officer met with township health officers, and emergency personnel and some hospital personnel to discuss mosquito control and in the light of the danger from the Zika virus, and I just want to report that they seem very prepared to do what they need to do in terms of mosquito control so I’m very pleased…. We’ll be working cooperatively with the County … to control mosquitos as best we can this summer and we’ll be doing a lot of public education on getting rid of stagnant water sources.”
Regarding public education, Roe has sent emails to all residents and posted an article about mosquito control in the Spring Leaflet (the town newsletter).
At the April 19 TC meeting, Mike Summersgill, a candidate for Township Committee, questioned whether the town was doing enough to prepare for the potential threat (see Summersgill’s letter to the editor here). Township Administrator Joseph Manning said that all of the code enforcement officers and town employees were being trained to look for stagnant water and remove it. He also said, “More education will be coming out as [Health Officer Bob Roe] develops the program.” The town will also be working with the County to identify areas with large mosquito populations and have those areas sprayed by the Essex County Mosquito Commission.
Roe provided a more in-depth and somewhat impassioned response at the May 3 Board of Health meeting, reiterating that the Township is not able to spray for mosquitos by law.
“The only licensed agent that can spray insecticide” is the County, said Roe. “That’s the plan throughout New Jersey. Only counties can do this.”
Roe said that residents who wanted to report mosquito-laden areas can contact him but should also contact Essex County Mosquito Control directly at 973-239-3366 ext. 2480. “Usually you get a machine, but they do respond,” said Roe. “They have a very good track record.”
Roe noted that it was a good sign that Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo attended the March meeting on mosquito control. “I’m really pleased that the County Executive took this seriously…. I know that if more resources are needed they will become available.”
Roe also said that the town and County can declare an imminent public health emergency within 48 hours “if someone is not doing what they are supposed to do” in terms of mitigating stagnant water in a Zika crisis.
“We have an electronic disease reporting system from the state. If [Zika is] reported, we will know very quickly. If you travel to Puerto Rico and get infected you will be strongly advised to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes and …. stay inside as much as possible…. If we do hear of a mosquito-borne transmission traveling up the coast we will step up control measures considerably,” including doing door-to-door information drops, said Roe.
“We are prepared. We have been making plans,” said Roe. “We have not been ignoring this.”
Roe said that more information would be posted on the Township website shortly. Maplewood department heads will also be meeting on the topic this Friday, May 6.
In a phone conversation, South Orange Health Officer John Festa indicated that South Orange’s preparation and response to Zika would mirror Maplewood’s. Festa also forwarded a flier that South Orange is distributing and posting (see below).
See Roe’s full report below: