[Updated] Nearly eight months after the City Council approved an application for Pasadena to join the San Gabriel Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District Board, and just days after the first sexually transmitted case of Zika was reported in Los Angeles County, Pasadena Public Health Dept. Environmental Health Services Division Manager Rachel Janbek will likely be confirmed Monday as the City of Pasadena’s official representative to the District.
For Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek, the appointment could not come at a more important time. Historically, the local vector control district was mostly concerned with locating and eliminating standing water or abandoned pools, he said, a manageable task.
“But now,” Tornek said Friday, “with the advent of West Nile and Zika, and these are scary things, it’s become a much more serious enterprise. This is no longer in the classification of a nuisance. This is now in the classification of a potential public health emergency.”
Pasadena Public Health Director Michael Johnson had campaigned for the City to join the District last spring after determining that his department could not provide the proper training, equipment or supplies to monitor and combat adult mosquitoes that could potentially carry the West Nile and Zika viruses.
Pasadena was officially annexed into the District on November 15. For the last six months the City was protected through Federal funds divided among Southern California cities designed to protect against or respond to an outbreak.
Meanwhile, LA County Health Department officials last week confirmed that an LA County man became infected with the Zika virus after traveling to Mexico in early November, and shortly afterward infected his female partner, who did not travel to Mexico.
Zika virus, which has caused birth defects in hundreds of babies born in Brazil, is most commonly transmitted by mosquitoes. A sexually transmitted infection is more rare, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We really needed to annex ourselves with an agency that could respond if, God forbid, we have some sort of an outbreak of one of these mosquito-borne viruses, and so as far as I’m concerned, this is in the nick of time. I think we really dodged a bullet here,” Tornek said.
Tornek continued, making no secret of his alarm over the idea of local Zika cases.
“I was in Miami shortly after the Zika scare there visiting family members,” Tornek said. “We drove to the area in Miami where the biggest outbreak was, an up and coming tourist area, and it was a ghost town; it was a disaster. And in terms of the economic impact on that community, it was devastating.”
Jared Dever, San Gabriel Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District Board district manager also said Friday that the new Zika case should serve as a reminder that Zika virus has two modes of transmission, which he said was “quite unusual” for what would be deemed a traditional vector-borne disease or mosquito-borne disease.
Added Dever, “The sexual transmission aspect of the Zika virus is problematic because you can have transmission occurring in the human population before we ever pick it up in the mosquito population, through our testing of mosquitoes that we collect in the field. The good news there is that that’s going to stay very localized to one or two individuals now, obviously through sexual transmission. But it does still cause a concern for the medical community because if the sexual transmission occurs and the person who becomes pregnant, or was pregnant at the time, it can be very problematic for the woman.”
Dever also said that it’s still unknown whether or not the couple have infected any local mosquitoes with the Zika virus before they received treatment, however they are investigating that possibility.
“That’s where our agency really steps into the investigation side of confirming and assessing whether or not any of the mosquitoes that were present in and around the household of these individuals either bit them, acquired a blood meal and could’ve possibly acquired the Zika virus and then at that point, can transmit it to another human,” Dever said.
Considering the idea of this man and woman starting ground zero for an outbreak or an epidemic, Dever said, “It certainly can, and it’s one (concept) that we’ve been trying to communicate to the public of how risky it is to travel abroad to areas that have active Zika infection and then come back to United States into areas that have these new invasive mosquitoes and potentially start the epidemic in that manner.
According to Dever, new Board member Janbek would sit on a 27-member board, which acts as an oversight component for the district. Board members are responsible for major District personnel decisions, and oversee all legal matters in the district, said Dever.
The board also approves all District policies and procedures.
“They’re really the regulatory body of the agency to ensure that the taxes that we collect are being spent appropriately,” said Dever.
As Dever explained further, the District relies on board members “to be the conduit of not only the information that we need to disseminate back to the cities, but also to be our voice to the cities if there are any issues that we’re having, if there’s any support that we need in terms of resolution for the water conveyance systems, or maintenance of systems that the city may own that we’re having trouble with. They serve an important function as that direct line of communication back to the cities in that regard.”
Janbek would serve for a term of four years, commencing January 1, 2018.