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Kentucky School Advocate
By Madelynn Coldiron
There are many unknowns about the mosquito-borne Zika virus and its potential impact in Kentucky, but one thing is certain: state public health officials say that schools can do their part toward prevention right now.
“Most definitely schools can be of great benefit” in getting prevention messages across, said Dr. Ardis Hoven, infectious disease specialist for the Kentucky Department for Public Health. “All mosquitoes are local. They’re going to be in our backyards and our schoolyards. So educating the children and making them part of the mitigation process will be very important.”
Local health departments have received Zika informational toolkits that include flyers to distribute to civic groups, health providers, schools and others. For example, Fayette County Schools received a flyer from the county’s health department about keeping down mosquito populations in backyards, with a request to distribute it to students before the end of the school year.
“Teach the children about standing water and why it’s important not to let it be there,” Hoven said. “Educate them about the importance of using repellent – when to apply it, how to use it, why it’s important – so it almost becomes a habit, just like sunscreen has become for many children and adolescents.”
Schools also can do their part in minimizing mosquito breeding grounds by scouring their property for standing water.
“Anywhere you have standing water in and around schools there should be an attempt made to address that,” said Kathy Fowler, director of the Division for Public Health, Protection and Safety in the state Department for Public Health.
Most athletic fields are well drained, she said, adding, “I would be more aware of ditch lines” and similar features.
For schools and communities that are hosting large outdoor events, Fowler’s agency and local health departments are partnering with the state agriculture department to do targeted spraying.
“That’s not going to be every soccer game, but if a community or a school is having a major outdoor event they can certainly let their health department know and then agriculture is going to make an attempt, going to put it on their priority list to do some targeted preventive spraying in those areas,” she said.
Kentucky Department of Agriculture certification is required to apply pesticides in a school building and on school grounds. But whether it’s spraying on a large scale or applying repellent on a child, Fowler said manufacturer’s recommendations must be followed.
“What we’ve seen in the past when we’ve had large outbreaks of nuisance mosquitoes is people out there spraying all over the place, and that’s not good, either,” she said. “They need to use an EPA-registered repellent. Not all repellents are created equal and I think that’s important to stress.”
Marshall County Schools Superintendent Trent Lovett said Zika “is an issue we’re going to have to deal with” in his western Kentucky district. “We’ll rely heavily on what our health department tells us what to do. They usually do a fantastic job of working with us and telling us what we need to do.”
The health department can easily distribute information to students about prevention in the clinics it operates in three of the district’s schools, Lovett said.
He also expects to have to address occasional standing water issues in some low-lying areas on the grounds of a couple of schools.
Marshall County borders Land Between The Lakes, but the national recreation area “does a pretty good job” of spraying for mosquitoes during the late spring and summer, he added.
Hoven said her agency is not recommending that schools, churches or individuals cancel any trips south of Kentucky; instead, she recommends they consult health-care providers about travel in high-risk areas, especially Central America and South America. “Everybody needs to be fully educated about what the risks are, what to avoid, how to protect themselves,” she said.
The virus primarily is spread when a mosquito bites an infected person, then lives long enough to bite someone else. Most of the time, the infected person has mild or no symptoms, but Zika can pose a prenatal risk and possibly cause other conditions.
At mid-May, the Zika virus was not known to be circulating in Kentucky’s mosquito population and there were no reports of Zika being spread by mosquitoes in the continental U.S.
“Until we see what’s going to happen over the next several months, we can’t really predict what’s going to happen (here),” Hoven said. “But prevention is inexpensive; it’s safe, it’s important and it’s doable. If we in fact can do the prevention piece well, we will obviously lessen the risk of something happening in Kentucky.”
For a list of insect repellents approved by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, go to
and click on “Finding an insect repellent that is right for you.”
Stay up to date on the Zika virus with the CDC’s microsite, at
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