Maryland officials announced Friday that the state plans to spend about $700,000 to make residents aware of Zika and to prevent the mosquito-borne virus from spreading.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said during a news conference with officials from various state departments, including health, agriculture and transportation, that his administration’s “first and main priority is keeping Marylanders safe,” and that “all levels of government are working together to respond to threats to public health. . . . We’re taking his very seriously.”
Hogan’s news conference followed reports on Friday of the first recorded Zika-related death in the United States.
State officials were unaware of the death, which was announced moments before the governor’s news conference.
Officials in Puerto Rico said a 70-year-old man died after initially recovering from Zika symptoms. He later developed an immune reaction to the virus and died from internal bleeding.
The death comes after researchers announced this week that they have detected the virus in the Aedes albopictus, a mosquito species that is found as far north as the New England states.
The discovery did not come as a surprise to U.S. health officials, who have been telling states that originally did not think the virus would spread to other regions to prepare for Zika.
Earlier this month Hogan declared this week Zika Awareness Week, hoping to provide tips to residents on how to prevent the spread of mosquitoes that might carry the virus.
Twelve people in Maryland have been infected with the virus, according to the most recent figures from the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. All of the cases involve someone who has traveled to areas outside the country where the virus is actively transmitted. Some of those cases involve pregnant women and some were sexually transmitted, according to state health officials.
Symptoms of the Zika virus are fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis. The symptoms are mild, so most people who have the virus are not aware that they are infected.
It poses the most significant threat to pregnant women because it can cause a birth defect known as microcephaly, a condition where a baby’s head is much smaller than expected. The babies often have smaller brains that have not properly developed.
State officials are urging residents to empty outside containers with standing water, to wear light-colored clothing and to use mosquito repellants. Transportation officials said they are not discouraging travel to areas where Zika is active, but are notifying travelers to take precautions and to be aware of symptoms.
The state mosquito control program plans to begin spraying for adult mosquitoes in the next two weeks.