Mercury News: As Zika spreads in California, leaders call for more money, education
California needs to be better prepared for the Zika virus and do more to educate people about how it spreads, especially since federal funding has stalled, state and local health officials determined last week.
The call for a massive education campaign came during a town hall meeting in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday, sponsored by state Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina. Hernandez said concerns about Zika are growing, especially since the number of people who have it in the Golden State continues to climb.
As of Friday, 282 people had tested positive for Zika, or 22 more cases than the week before, according to the California Department of Public Health. All of the individuals acquired the infection while traveling where the Zika virus is circulating, health officials said.
“The Zika virus does not discriminate against county, state or country borders, and we must do everything in our power to ensure our communities are aware of Zika and protected against its negative impacts that can forever change the lives of Californians,” Hernandez said.
While doctors have been advised to be vigilant and to test patients if the virus is suspected, women who are pregnant or who want to get pregnant are of most concern, Hernandez added.
Zika is spread primarily through the bite of the black-and-white-striped Aedes mosquito, but the virus also can be passed through sex, health officials said. Babies born to mothers who are infected have a greater chance of having birth defects. Two infected women in California gave birth to two babies with microcephaly, a condition in which a child’s head is significantly smaller than normal.
Program directors for local Planned Parenthood centers and WIC, or Women, Infants, and Children, the state’s supplemental food program, said during the town hall that they have launched educational campaigns and other efforts to raise awareness. That includes telling women and their partners to wear insect repellent and to practice safe sex if they have traveled to affected countries, to help prevent the spread of the virus.
The Aedes aegypti is already present in the eastern cities and unincorporated parts of Los Angeles County and, most recently, in Pacoima, but none have tested positive for Zika.
In Los Angeles County, where 73 people have been infected, most are Latinos who visited family in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, all countries that have been affected by Zika outbreaks, said Dr. Benjamin Schwartz, deputy chief of the acute communicable disease control program for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
Schwartz noted those who are infected by Zika live close to the cities and areas where Aedes mosquitos have been found, which is why residents need to continue to drain standing water from planters and containers in front and back yards.
“While we’re working hard to prevent Zika from getting a foothold in Los Angeles County, it is possible that despite our best efforts, local mosquitos will become infected and the disease will spread here,” Schwartz said. “This would be a threat to pregnant women, and a threat to the community as well as significant economic impact if people stopped traveling to Los Angeles as a result of this risk.”
Congress has delayed a $1.9 billion request by President Barack Obama to combat Zika for months as both sides argue why Planned Parenthood and its affiliated clinics should or shouldn’t share in the funding. Some progress in the debates were made last week.
“It is a disappointment there hasn’t been more resources devoted to Zika prevention from the federal level,” said Dinah Stephens, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood, Los Angeles County. “It’s frustrating to see funding for this critical care be held hostage to the debate of Planned Parenthood and abortion, and we’re hopeful we can move on from this and be a true partner in this.”
Some symptoms of the Zika virus include acute onset of fever, a flat red rash and joint pain. Although death is rare, one in five people infected can become very ill, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.