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‘Majority’ of SC unprepared for a Zika outbreak

This S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control handout shows which areas of South Carolina have devoted resources toward mosquito control.
This S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control handout shows which areas of South Carolina have devoted resources toward mosquito control. awilks@thestate.com

Nearly two-thirds of S.C. counties have put little or no resources behind mosquito-control efforts to ward off a Zika virus breakout, state health officials said Tuesday.

Many of those approximately 30 counties are in the Upstate, according to S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control officials. They added only 45 S.C. cities have mosquito-control programs.

“The majority of South Carolina is unprotected,” DHEC entomologist Chris Evans said. “They do not have the resources to go out and face a public health threat like Zika.”

At a legislative forum Tuesday, DHEC officials said they are preparing for a worst-case scenario, an outbreak of the Zika virus. But they do not expect one.

DHEC hasn’t had a mosquito-control program since the 1980s, officials said. Spraying and other control measures fall to cities and counties.

That is why, in part, DHEC is urging local communities and individuals to think now about their response to a potential outbreak of the virus, which can cause serious health effects in pregnant women, causing children to be born with small heads or hardened spots on their brains.

“Right now, it’s still on local municipalities to really work on upgrading or developing their abatement programs,” said DHEC spokesman Robert Yanity.

Thus far, South Carolina has had just one confirmed case of the virus, which is transmitted primarily by mosquitoes and has spread rapidly over the past year in Central and South America. That case poses no public health risk, DHEC has said.

Health experts have said an S.C. outbreak is improbable but not impossible. Part of DHEC’s role, agency officials said, is to monitor and track the virus, and to alert local authorities if a mosquito population begins to carry Zika.

DHEC has applied for more than $650,000 in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grants for mosquito-control equipment and insecticides, officials said. But, they added, that is a small sum when county-wide aerial spraying can cost millions.

“That’s the contingency planning we’re doing, which by no means replaces county responsibility” said DHEC director Catherine Heigel. “If we have a situation where the county can’t be responsive, we need to have the ability to target those areas.”

Avery G. Wilks: 803-771-8362, @averygwilks

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