Wolf steps up Zika surveillance in Pa.

Katherine Ranzenberger

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced Thursday his administration is working to increase surveillance for Zika in mosquitoes around the state as scientists work to understand the effects it could have on the U.S. population.

This 2006 photo provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a female Aedes aegypti mosquito in the process of acquiring a blood meal from a human host. Scientists believe the species originated in Africa but came to the Americas on slave ships. It has continued to spread through shipping and airplanes. Now it's found through much of the world. (James Gathany/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via AP)

Recently, Zika was found in Asian tiger (Aedes albopictus) mosquitoes, a species with a farther reach north than is typical for the Aedes aegypti mosquito the virus is found in. These concerns have prompted Wolf's administration to step up their education work and monitoring the situation without Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) laboratories.

“My administration is committed to ensuring the health and safety of all Pennsylvanians,” Wolf said in a news release. “We are continuing to work with our partners on the local, state and federal levels to keep Pennsylvania safe. The roll-out of this plan is another proactive step in our collaborative strategy to protect our citizens and prevent the spread of the Zika virus.”

Aedes aegypti mosquito larvae sit in a petri dish at the Fiocruz institute in Recife, Pernambuco state, Brazil, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. The mosquito is a vector for the proliferation of the Zika virus currently spreading throughout Latin America. New figures from Brazil's Health Ministry show that the Zika virus outbreak has not caused as many confirmed cases of a rare brain defect as first feared. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Zika: Recent news has focused on Zika, a virus that originated in the Zika Forest in Uganda. Health care providers are trying to educate people, especially pregnant women and women in childbearing years, on the infection that can cause birth defects such as microcephaly — abnormally small heads with incomplete brain development — and possibly the autoimmune disease Guillain-Barré syndrome, which causes paralysis.

Zika is usually found in the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which stays in southerly regions.

Mosquito surveillance starts with West Nile, Zika concerns

Infectious disease doctors weren't too worried about the reach of Zika to more northern states in the U.S. However, the Pan American Health Organization recently reported another species of mosquito can carry the virus.

Asian tiger mosquitoes, or Aedes albopictus, can be found as far north as New England and the lower Great Lakes region.

FILE - In this Jan. 28, 2016, file photo, three-month-old Daniel, who was born with microcephaly, undergoes physical therapy at the Altino Ventura foundation in Recife, Brazil. The mosquito behind the Zika virus seems to operate like a heat-driven missile of disease. Scientists say the hotter it gets, the better the mosquito that carries Zika virus is at transmitting a variety of dangerous illnesses. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana, File)

Monitoring: Currently, the only confirmed cases of Zika in Pennsylvania are those that were contracted while visiting areas where the virus is spreading, such as the Caribbean. However, as temperatures get warmer, administrators worry about local transmissions of Zika.

“This Zika Virus Response Plan will better help us protect the health of the more than 12 million people who call Pennsylvania home,” said Secretary of Health Karen Murphy in a news release.

In order to better protect the public, the Pennsylvania Department of Health will enhance surveillance for Zika cases in Pennsylvanians. The Department of Environmental Protection will increase vector surveillance and control of the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in the area. Educating the public is also an important point to the Zika Virus Response Plan.

“Zika generally causes very mild symptoms and rarely leads to serious side effects in those who become ill with the virus," Murphy said. "However, pregnant women and those of childbearing age are at greatest risk as Zika is known to potentially cause serious and even fatal birth defects in some babies born to women infected with the virus during pregnancy."

Protecting yourself: The Department of Health has a list of recommendations for how to protect yourself from possible mosquito bites. These tips include using an EPA-registered insect repellent with DEET, using screens on windows that might be open and routinely emptying containers that may hold standing water.

Zika can also be transmitted sexually, so the DOH recommends avoiding sexual contact with a partner who traveled to a Zika-affected area or using a condom correctly each time you have sex.

Doctors and epidemiologists are still working on answering questions people have about Zika and its link to birth defects and other issues.

To stay up to date on Zika and its spread, visit the CDC website.

— Reach Katherine Ranzenberger at or on Twitter at @YDKatherine.