Transcript of Get Ready Report podcast, episode 46: Zika preparedness and prevention

Welcome to APHA’s Get Ready podcast. APHA's Get Ready campaign helps Americans prepare themselves, their families and their communities for all disasters and hazards, including pandemic flu, infectious disease, natural disasters and other emergencies. Today we’re speaking with Jill Holdsworth, chair of the emergency preparedness committee for the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology.

How are you doing, Jill. How are you?

Hi, I’m great. Thank you for having me.

So our first question. Everyone wants to know about Zika. What should all Americans know about the virus and how to protect ourselves and our families against the mosquitoes who spread it?

 The most important thing to understand about this virus is that you really need to educate yourself and not get too involved with what the media is presenting because they are creating kind of a scare factor. The best thing to know about the Zika virus is the primary mode of transmission is through a mosquito. The best thing about it right now is the cold weather, for a lot of us — and it’s very cold weather, for a lot of us — so it’s not living mosquito season here in the U.S. So we’re at low risk at this particular time for this particular mosquito, the Aedes mosquito. But we do anticipate that there will be some transmission moving forward with the warmer months.

The (other) most important thing that you need to know is, if you are traveling to these affected countries, that you need to take every precaution that you can to prevent mosquito bites. In doing that, there are more things you can do than just wearing your bug spray. You should wear long sleeves and long pants. If you’re sleeping out in the open, you need to make sure that you have proper mosquito-net protection. If you’re going to be sleeping in a hotel, there’s no reason to feel like you’re going to have a risk of having a mosquito bite. But be very aware that the Aedes mosquito is a daytime biter, so it doesn’t matter what time of day you’re going to be outside, day and night, this type of mosquito is going to bite all day long and is not going to pay attention to what time of day it is. Also this particular mosquito can bite up to five times in one feeding so the potential for spreading the virus in an infected mosquito can actually be pretty high risk. If you are in these countries, you need to make sure you’re doing your due diligence to protect yourself so you’re not contributing to the spread.

Also, if you are traveling and you are pregnant, you need to take every precaution you can, (such as) long sleeves and long pants, and really you should be avoiding travel to these countries if you are pregnant. But if it is unavoidable, taking every precaution that you can is the best route for you for your protection.

That’s a perfect segue because you recently traveled to Puerto Rico, a territory that was affected by the Zika outbreak. And you were able to prepare yourself. What did you do to stay prepared — and not be afraid?

I knew about the Zika virus before I went to Puerto Rico. So I made sure I had my bug spray, long sleeves that were lighter-weight so I could protect myself when I was outside. It is hot in a lot of the affected countries. In Central America, South America, it is hard to say to wear long sleeves and long pants all the time, because it is very hot. So you do need to plan accordingly. But wearing the bug spray is really important for protecting yourself.

And then when you do come back you do need to monitor yourself and be very aware. Even if you’re not feeling ill, only one in 5 people are actually going to have symptoms of Zika virus. So you actually could be carrying the virus and not having symptoms. So for the next two weeks that you are back, you need to be very aware of anything that you’re feeling and any risk that you are having when you do come back from these countries. The way we can prevent the virus in the United States is (that) if you have the Zika virus or think you might have the Zika virus, you need to protect yourself from getting a mosquito bite here in the United States. Once a mosquito bites you and you’re affected by this virus, now that mosquito is infected with Zika and can go spread it to other people. That’s how we start having a lot of issues, because more mosquitoes become affected and they’re going to spread it around to people in the United States.

And finally the most amazing thing about this virus is that it evolves every single day. The World Health Organization recently called Zika an extraordinary event similar to Ebola in terms of its category for concern. As a nation, as a society, everyone wants to know how can we collaborate and work together to prevent the spread of Zika — both in and out of health care settings?
And what’s interesting is that you work in a health care setting, so you’re well-equipped to answer this one.

Right. What we have been doing is we have a group of employees — our safety coach team, we also have our infection control committees — groups of people who are very interested in making sure that we know what’s going on, what’s the up-and-coming thing. With Zika virus it’s been very unique because the information changes almost on a daily basis. There is now potential for sexual transmission. There’s also potential that it is found living in saliva and semen. So there’s a lot of updated information that you really have to stay on top of every day to make sure that we have the best and the newest information to move forward and to teach not only our team members in the hospital, but also our community.

We actually had our local health department come into our facility to give a brief (on) “What do we need to know to speak to our patients and to the members of the community who are going to look to us to have the answers?” We don’t need to have every answer, but we do need to be able to hold a conversation and a discussion with these patients who are sitting in their rooms watching the news and watching everything on Zika virus. Now they’re becoming panicked and scared. As health care providers we do need to have that discussion. Partnering with local health departments or infection control experts, that’s really the way the community needs to go to be able to get the message out. What do we really need to know? Do we really need to be as scared as the media is making some of our community members? Really, it’s about just getting that education out there so that we are able to have intelligent conversation and to make intelligent decisions when traveling.

That’s really what it’s about with prevention. It’s making sure everybody is well-informed, has the most updated information and not to get overly panicked and scared. If you really understand the information — Kind of like Ebola, everybody got really scared, everybody thought they were going to get Ebola, but once we understood the facts and how it’s transmitted, everybody calms down a little bit and realizes we have the necessary things in place to prevent Ebola if they came into the United States.
Being well-informed and tapping into your resources in your own community are really your number one (resource) and can be very beneficial to everybody.

Posted Feb. 18, 2016. Listen to this podcast on our main podcast page.