Meeting Mentor Magazine

March 2024

Working Overtime

Efforts Widen to Stop Spread of Zika Virus

Government agencies, and some states and U.S. territories are working overtime to stay on top of the spread of Zika virus.

In order to find a conclusive connection between the Zika virus and microcephaly (a birth defect where babies are born with abnormally small heads), a 16-member research team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) traveled to Brazil. Joining Brazilian investigators, they are taking blood samples from mothers and babies for testing and collecting information — everything from whether the mothers can recall having Zika virus symptoms and many other questions that could point to a different source for the microcephaly outbreak.

On Feb. 8, the CDC elevated its response to “Level 1” activation, which is the highest response level at the agency. As of Mar. 2, 153 travel-associated Zika virus disease cases were reported in 28 states plus District of Columbia, but no locally acquired cases of infection. Three U.S. territories reported one travel-associated case and 107 locally acquired cases. Click to see this updated U.S. map with numbers of cases and locations, as well as in-depth information on the virus and precautions to take.

The CDC activated its Emergency Operations Center as the command center for monitoring and coordinating emergency response to Zika. This includes: developing diagnostic tests; conducting studies on the link between Zika and microcephaly and Guillain-Barre syndrome; reporting and monitoring cases; providing guidance to travelers and Americans living in areas with outbreaks.

President Barack Obama asked Congress for more than $1.8 billion in emergency funding to respond to the Zika virus — $828 million directly for the CDC to support domestic and international actions, and specifically to assist Puerto Rico and U.S. states and territories with local transmission of Zika virus. Several proposed bills in the House and Senate seek permission to tap funds unused but earmarked for fighting Ebola.

On Feb. 3, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency for the Zika virus in four counties; it now extends to 12 counties. The state activated a Zika virus information hotline (855-622-6735) for residents and visitors, and Florida Surgeon General Dr. John Armstrong posts Zika virus updates every weekday at 2 p.m. His Mar. 11 post cited 59 travel-related cases (including four involving pregnant women), with  one sexually transmitted case (the first in the state); five of the cases are still exhibiting symptoms. A web page devoted to Zika on the Florida Department of Health site lists symptoms and treatment, information for travelers, guidance for healthcare providers, and resources.

On Feb. 5, Puerto Rico declared a public health emergency, at that point citing 22 confirmed Zika cases; that number for 2016 is 102, according to the CDC. (In a side note, Puerto Rico froze the prices of condoms to prevent profiteering, as Zika can be passed by sexual contact.)

Despite no reports of Zika virus entering the U.S. blood supply, the Food & Drug Administration issued safety guidelines to reduce the risk of blood transmission. It recommended that individuals who have visited areas with active Zika virus transmission, potentially been exposed to the virus, or had a confirmed infection defer from donating blood. The FDA is also prioritizing the development of blood screening and diagnostic tests to identify the presence of the virus, as well as preparing to evaluate the safety and efficacy of investigational vaccines and therapeutics that might be developed. — Maxine Golding

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