How LIHEAP is Helping Fight Zika in Puerto Rico

August 5, 2016
sunset viewed through a window screen

sunset viewed through a window screenJeannie Chaffin, Director,  Office of Community Services (OCS)

Zika virus presents a threat to one of our most vulnerable populations, especially babies. Zika is the first mosquito-borne virus known to cause severe birth defects such as microcephaly, when a baby’s head is smaller than expected. Zika is primarily spread through the bite of infected mosquitoes. It can also be passed through sex Visit disclaimer page , and a pregnant woman Visit disclaimer page with Zika can pass the virus to her fetus, resulting in devastating birth defects even among pregnant women who don’t experience any symptoms of Zika infection.

Avoiding mosquito bites Visit disclaimer page is the best way to prevent getting Zika. Ways to protect against mosquito bites include:

  • using EPA-registered insect repellent
  • wearing long sleeves and pants to cover arms and legs
  • removing buckets and other items that hold water
  • using air conditioning when available
  • using and repairing screens on windows and doors
  • using condoms or other barriers that protect against infection during sex to help to prevent the spread of Zika virus

Puerto Rico is taking steps to protect its vulnerable communities from Zika, including by using funds from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

LIHEAP is an Administration for Children and Families (ACF) funded block grant that provides over $3.4 billion to states, territories, and tribes. Grantees have flexibility on how they use LIHEAP to meet the needs of their low-income households – paying utility bills, installing or repairing home energy equipment, providing blankets or fans, energy education, and more.

Recently, the ACF Office of Community Services (OCS) provided technical assistance and guidance to the Administration for Socio-Economic Development (ADSEF) Visit disclaimer page , within the Puerto Rico Department of the Family (PRDF), on allowable LIHEAP activities that can help in the fight against Zika.

For part of Zika prevention, PRDF decided to target LIHEAP-eligible households with pregnant women and women of childbearing age. They partnered with the Puerto Rico Department of Housing (PRDH) to install or repair window and door screens in homes within the public housing system. This pilot program will help almost 400 households with pregnant women be better protected against infected mosquitoes. PRDF is also providing guidance to these families on other ways to prevent the spread of Zika.

This is the kind of innovative local and federal government partnership needed to make a difference! Let’s continue working together to ensure we have children, youth, families, individuals, and communities who are resilient, safe, healthy, and economically secure.

Contact your local LIHEAP office for more information about the services and benefits provided in your area.

See CDC’s Zika website for additional information regarding transmission, risks, and prevention of Zika.

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