Horry County officials are making sure an emergency response plan is in place for a potential Zika virus outbreak, but are concerned they don’t have the millions in funding needed to battle what they say would be a costly crisis.
“In case there is an outbreak, we can only budget so much,” said Horry County councilman Bill Howard. “Where does the emergency money come from for us to jump into gear?
“This could be major,” he said. “Other counties are spending millions on their programs, and here we are, we only have a few [spraying] trucks.”
Horry County will spend more than a half-million dollars for a mosquito spraying program that started a month earlier this year due to recent flooding, utilizing four trucks.
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Horry County Stormwater Director Tom Garigen attended the South Carolina Zika Forum held Tuesday by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), and says numerous counties, as well as the state, are strapped for funds to deal with a potential outbreak.
“There is no magic pot of money just sitting there,” Garigen told Howard and other council members at the council’s Infrastructure and Regulations Committee meeting Thursday.
More than 350 Americans have been diagnosed with the virus spread by mosquitoes, which was contracted while traveling abroad. No local transmissions in the U.S. have been reported.
With this Zika virus and everything that we’re hearing, everybody is getting scared about this stuff and I want us to stay on top of it.
Johnny Vaught, Horry County councilman
The disease is not deadly, but can cause birth defects in children born from infected mothers in which the baby’s head has formed too small.
If the Zika virus does migrate, DHEC warns that the Aedes albopictus mosquito found throughout the state is a potential carrier of the Zika virus, while the Aedes Aegypti mosquito found in small numbers in Charleston County would be the most likely carrier.
Common symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain or conjunctivitis and lasts for several days, but has not resulted in serious illness for the carrier.
If an outbreak does occur locally, FEMA will not provide any funding to Horry County without a Zika virus emergency plan in place, Garigen said.
“With this Zika virus and everything that we’re hearing, everybody is getting scared about this stuff and I want us to stay on top of it,” said Horry County councilman Johnny Vaught.
The DHEC Zika Forum focused on prevention measures for county officials, and outlined measures that state officials would take if the virus is reported in South Carolina.
Catherine Heigel, DHEC director, told county officials who attended that while no state funding is available, President Barack Obama has asked Congress for $1.9 billion to address the Zika virus. That funding by Congress is still pending.
DHEC officials will rely on local health care providers to recognize the symptoms in patients and report suspected cases to DHEC to test for the virus. If a localized case is confirmed – in other words the patient had not traveled outside of the state or the country – local officials will be contacted to control a potential outbreak through aggressive spraying programs.
The closest outbreak to the U.S. has occurred in South America.
Other counties are spending millions on their programs, and here we are, we only have a few trucks.
Bill Howard, Horry County councilman
DHEC is warning that anyone who contracts the virus should avoid mosquitoes, so that the virus is not transmitted to the bugs.
Meanwhile, communities must make spray programs a priority to prevent an outbreak and protect the public, as well as the state’s entire economy, said Heigel, recalling the impact that last year’s flooding had on tourism.
“This has an impact on communities and public health, but let’s not lose sight that our economy is tied to it,” Heigel said. “Images of coffins in the river and upside down trucks lingered and really hurt the tourism industry.”
“[Zika] could happen here,” Heigel said. “If you have a localized transmission situation, what is the media going to do with that? They are going to sensationalize it, they are going to blow it up and that can have a negative impact and enduring effort on those who live here and vacation here.
“Don’t wait until it’s a crisis in your county,” Heigel told the local officials.