RI officials host Zika preparedness summit

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — There’s only one confirmed case of Zika in Rhode Island – but that didn’t stop state and federal health leaders from crafting a local response and prevention plan during a meeting Monday.

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed said it is always better to be safe than sorry, which is why he’s pushing for $1.9 billion in federal funds to combat the Zika virus and develop a vaccine.

Reed assembled federal and local leaders for a Zika Preparedness Summit Monday at the Rhode Island Department of Health.

“Forwarned is forearmed,” Reed said. “Rather than waiting for an outbreak in which multiple individuals might be infected, we’re sitting at the table today in order to prevent that.”

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Dr. David Morens of the National Institute of Health was on hand for the meeting.

“This is a virus that’s been around for at least 70 years and has done nothing,” Morens said. “And all of a sudden it’s exploding around the world and causing problems that we never recognized before so we’re really moving quickly to try and understand and we’re catching up.”

Little is known about the virus, which can cause fever, rash and pink eye, and has been linked to certain birth defects.

Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said it is highly unlikely Zika will be transmitted in New England by local mosquitoes.

“For now, travel related type of Zika virus infections are what we’re seeing in Rhode Island,” she explained.

So far, the type of mosquito that transmits Zika has not been established locally – but a certain mosquito breed capable of transmitting the virus has been reported in places like Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Still, health officials say it is highly unlikely those mosquitoes will be able to transmit the virus here.

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