September 8, 2016

Take Precautions against Zika

Jim Nathan On Feb. 1, 2016 the World Health Organization declared the Zika virus an international public health emergency due to the link to birth defects, including brain damage in newborns. President Obama submitted a request to Congress for $1.9 billion in emergency funds on Feb. 22, 2016.

The requested funds were intended to accelerate vaccine research and diagnostic development; conduct mosquito surveillance and control; provide education to health providers, women and partners about the disease; improve health services and support for low-income pregnant women; and help Zika-affected countries better control transmission. Congress failed to act before a 7-week summer break. Unfortunately, the lack of Zika funding is an example of political divisiveness getting in the way of doing the right things and can have significant consequences

In a recent interview with Health News Florida, United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy discussed the importance of the Congressional funding. He says Florida, with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the federal government, is prepared. “Right now the funding that we have been pulling together has been money that we’ve had to take from other public health accounts because we still as of now do not have the funding that has been provided specifically for the response by Congress,” he said in the interview. “My hope is that that will change because as we have learned not just from Zika but from other public health emergencies, it’s very important to invest early and upfront so that we can prevent rather than have to deal with the aftermath later.”

Surgeon General Murthy continued the discussion on the importance of Congressional financial support. “We have, for example, invested heavily in vaccine development and hope to begin phase one trials on a vaccine soon,” he said. “But if we don’t receive the Congressional funding we will not be able to continue those tests and studies for the vaccine, which will ultimately impair our ability to develop a fully functioning and safe vaccine for the public.”

On July 20, 2016, the Florida Department of Health announced an investigation of a possible non-travel related case of Zika in Miami-Dade County. Another announcement came on Thursday, July 21 that there is another potential case of non-travel related Zika in Broward County. The concern over mosquito-borne transmission in the continental United States is mounting and Florida was, and is, in the eye of the potential storm.

Thus, we all must understand Zika including its symptoms and how we can protect ourselves. Steve Streed, Lee Memorial Health System director of epidemiology and infection control, says infection with Zika virus is considered a relatively minor disease with symptoms that include fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes. “A significant challenge with Zika is that only 1 in 5 people infected develop symptoms,” he explains. “The infectious nature of the virus is not correlated with visible disease, meaning that someone can transmit the virus without realizing they have it.”

Protect yourself and your loved ones by avoiding mosquito bites using Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered insect repellents, wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants, and removing or staying away from mosquito breeding sites—like standing water. The Zika virus also can be transmitted through sexual activity, so protection is key if your partner travelled to areas with Zika activity and/or exhibits signs or symptoms of illness. It is also important to seek medical attention if you or someone you know develops symptoms.

Lee Memorial Health System is prepared for cases of Zika virus. “Since the beginning, we have carefully monitored all advisories from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Florida Department of Health and the Lee County Department of Health,” Steve shares. “If someone presents to one of our facilities with possible symptoms, we refer to the algorithm developed by the health department to determine if we need to submit lab samples—blood, urine or both—for testing.”

Steve says the Zika virus does not appear to last long in the body, usually a week to 10 days. “At present there is no vaccine to prevent Zika or medicine to treat it,” he says. “The bottom line is to be aware of your risk for infection and transmission and take necessary precautions.”


Jim Nathan

Jim Nathan

President, Lee Memorial Health System

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