Update on Zika Virus: August 2016
As August approached, the U.S. turned its attention to Florida, which began making headlines in late July for a case of potentially locally-acquired Zika virus. On July 29th, the Florida Health Department stated it believed there was “active transmission of the Zika virus,” based on four cases that were detected earlier in the Miami-Dade area. By August 1st, thanks to intensive testing in the area suspected of housing the Zika virus, those numbers had been revised to include at least 10 new cases.
The response to the news of local transmission in the U.S. has been swift, and in many ways, rare: as soon as a local case was suspected, the FDA requested that blood centers in a two-county area stop collecting until all donations could be tested for Zika. Shortly after local transmission was confirmed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned pregnant women to avoid the area where Zika had been detected in Aedes aegypti mosquitos. At the Governor of Florida’s request, the CDC sent in a special response team to aid the local response and testing, which has included going door-to-door in the affected area collecting urine samples from residents.
Health officials have warned about—and prepared for—when locally-acquired cases would begin occurring in the United States. Many states where Aedes aegypti mosquitos live, including Maryland, have been actively campaigning to raise awareness, as well as vigilantly monitoring cases to detect a local presence. Vector control, like spraying pesticide or eliminating standing water, has been a commonly-invoked response tactic, but even planning for such a response requires rigorous coordination between local health officials, emergency managers, and public works departments.
Paying for any response remains a looming question as well, one that has yet to be addressed by Congress. In the interim, some cities and states have sought funding elsewhere. Baltimore City Health Department received some funding from the city mayor’s office; North Carolina has allotted funds to partially re-instate a defunct mosquito-control program.
These examples, while helpful, do not fully address the sustained funding needed to fully combat a widespread outbreak. Furthermore, as the alarming acceleration of cases in Puerto Rico shows, early intervention is crucial to helping control an outbreak and its effects.