Public health agencies, hospitals prepare for potential Zika spread

It's been nearly two years since public health agencies' efforts to prevent the spread of Ebola dominated the headlines and now those agencies, as well as individual healthcare providers, have their work similarly cut out for them to combat the Zika virus.

Tom Frieden, M.D., director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told National Public Radio that pregnant women in the United States should avoid areas where Zika is spreading altogether, a significantly more ominous warning than the World Health Organization's (WHO) advice that women traveling to affected nations should use mosquito repellent and wear clothing with long sleeves.

The CDC has made Zika a top priority, not only in the U.S. but in affected Latin American nations, according to NPR. The agency is helping those countries test for the virus and reduce the mosquito population. In the wake of the announcement that a Texas woman contracted the virus through sexual intercourse, public health experts also warn Zika could potentially spread through bodily fluids, according to WSLS10.

Meanwhile, leaders at individual U.S. hospitals are hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. A Chicago hospital is currently testing a patient for the virus, according to ABC7, while in New Jersey, hospitals are taking steps to prepare for patients despite no sign of any infected patients yet, according to WVNSTV reports similar efforts in West Virginia. And Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) has declared a public health emergency in four Sunshine State counties that have confirmed cases, according to MyNews13.

Now that WHO has declared Zika an international public health emergency, public health agencies must look to the international response to the Ebola outbreak in crafting their response, according to a blog post from the Harvard Business Review.  This will mean implementing similar protocols that aim to identify potentially infected patients as early as possible and quarantining them.

This will be more difficult in the case of Zika, however, as its symptoms are vague--and less likely to manifest at all--compared to Ebola. To that end, the post states, public health authorities must focus on restricting exposure to the mosquitoes that transmit the virus through precautions such as mosquito repellent and insecticide-treated bed nets.

To learn more:
- here's the NPR article
- read the WSLS10 article
- check out the ABC7 article
- read the story
- here's the MyNews13 piece
- read the HBR post