It has passed legislation, sponsored by Sam Singh, an East Lansing Democrat, to spend up to $500,000 to address the potential problem.
The appropriations bill amendment provides funds to treat and prevent the mosquito-borne disease and to monitor three counties bordering Ohio, where the Asian Tiger mosquito, the only known vector of the virus, have been found living. The counties are Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe.
“The bulk of the appropriation is to work with counties bordering Ohio,” Singh said. “We wanted to do some pre-planning in the event something did happen.”
Monitoring for the mosquito is not necessarily a bad idea, said Edward Walker, a professor at Michigan State University who studies mosquito borne viral infections, although he questions the potential threat.
“We are just north of where the Asian Tiger Mosquito can handle the winter,” said Walker.
In addition, he said, the Asian Tiger mosquito generally enters a new locations through shipping ports. He said monitoring should focus on ports on the Eastern coast of Michigan. However, two of the three counties, Hillsdale and Lenawee, are landlocked. Monroe borders on Lake Erie but doesn’t have a port.
The virus has been linked to a serious birth defect that causes babies to be born with very small brains. It came to the notice of health officials worldwide when Brazil was able to note a significant increase in the number of babies being born with the birth defect. In April, U.S. health officials announced the virus was the definitive cause of the birth defects.
While the virus is mainly transmitted by the Asian Tiger mosquito’s bite, a person living with Zika virus can transmit that infection through sexual activity. Two cases of the disease have been identified in Michigan, including one in Ingham County. Both cases were linked to travel to locations where the viral outbreak is active and were not obtained in Michigan, health officials stressed.
“There’s a public education component to this,” Singh said. “You will have people traveling and I think education is important.”
State health officials said that other mosquito borne viral infections do not have line item funding in budgets in the state.
“We don’t have any general fund money for vector borne disease,’ said Jennifer Eisner, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
Funding to monitor diseases such as West NIle, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, LaCrosse Virus, Powassan virus and St. Louis Encephalitis are provided by the federal government. That’s the way it has been for at least a decade Eisner said.
And while Zika may not ultimately be a threat to Michigan with a direct assault, Singh said the money is there as an insurance policy.“The department doesn’t have to spend the money,” he said.