Virginia Health Care Community United in Zika Prevention and Response Efforts

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Julian Walker
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Virginia Health Care Community United in Zika Prevention and Response Efforts

Public health infrastructure, hospitals, and providers offer prevention tips and insight on preparation for integrated public health response to emergencies

RICHMOND, VA – Virginia health care leaders gathered today to share prevention tips to combat the spread of the Zika virus, and to alert the public to the ongoing collaboration that exists between public health officials and private providers to address public health concerns. Officials from the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association (VHHA), the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), and Virginia Commonwealth University Health System participated in a public event highlighting advice to prevent Zika transmission, ways to respond to potentially contracting the virus, and the extensive coordination between public health officials and private providers in an effort to safeguard public well-being.

The Zika virus is a disease primarily spread through the bite of infected mosquitoes. It can also be transmitted sexually through intercourse with an infected male, and from mother to baby during pregnancy. The illness is relatively mild for many adults. Zika virus infection for pregnant women, however, can cause microcephaly and other serious birth defects in babies. To date, Virginia has 33 reported cases of Zika infection. None have resulted from domestic transmission. More than 1,100 cases have been reported across the nation. With mosquito season in bloom, and the potential for increased travel to Rio, Brazil for the upcoming Olympic Games, officials urge the public to practice prevention habits to reduce the risk of Zika spreading.

“Virginia’s local hospitals and health systems are regularly engaged in ongoing coordination and preparation efforts to respond to varying public health concerns,” said Mary N. Mannix, President and CEO of Augusta Health in Fishersville and Chair of the VHHA Board of Directors. “For years, Virginia’s hospitals have worked hand-in-hand with government partners, including public health officials at VDH, to be ready to respond when needed. Hospitals are on the front lines to deliver care whenever patients need treatment. That is true for infectious diseases such as Zika and Ebola, for natural and man-made events that cause harm, and for any other health need that might arise.”

Since 2002, VDH and VHHA have partnered in the Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP), a regionally-structured collaborative effort among hospitals and state officials to coordinate care to emerging health threats. Health care emergency planning is a continuous process focused on improving the health care system’s capacity to respond to a range of public health hazards. The HPP has facilitated the acquisition of equipment, supplies, training, and planning. Hospitals have developed plans to care for patients with infectious diseases through the HPP regional model that provides a strong foundation for public health responses, and supports ongoing cooperative health care efforts.

“We are grateful to have a strong network of health professionals and state and local agencies in Virginia who are always ready to collaborate on issues of public health,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Marissa J. Levine. “A key component of the Commonwealth’s Zika Response Plan is the Zika Task Force, which is made up of leaders in several different fields dedicated to preventing the spread of Zika. Virginians should know that their health care providers and government remain committed to working together to stop Zika in its tracks.”

VDH has developed a series of Zika prevention recommendations, including:

  • Use an EPA-registered insect repellent spray;
  • Wear protective clothing to avoid being bitten by a mosquito;
  • Tip standing water containers, and toss debris where it collects;
  • Use prophylactics during intercourse; and
  • Seek immediate medical attention if you exhibit Zika symptoms.

Governor Terry McAuliffe established the Virginia Zika Task Force in February 2016 to facilitate a rapid, effective response to the potential infiltration of the Zika virus in Virginia. Through the Task Force effort, VHHA, VDH, and Virginia’s hospitals and health care organizations are collaborating to ensure the health care system promotes prevention, and is prepared to respond to any local transmission of Zika in Virginia.

Also speaking today was Robin Manke, Director of Emergency Management at VCU Health System. Manke is an emergency preparedness professional who has the unique perspective of a patient who has gone through the grueling experience of becoming seriously ill and undergoing a testing and treatment protocol.

“I know from a firsthand perspective the vast amount of training health care providers undergo to respond to a public health emergency,” said Manke. “Personally, I can tell you how daunting it is to experience a situation like this from a patient’s perspective. In early 2015, I traveled to Africa to help train responders there in emergency preparedness techniques. I became violently ill upon my return and was hospitalized, under the care of the team at VCU, for possible Ebola infection. After testing, it was determined I had not contracted Ebola. As difficult as that time was personally, I remain so proud of the work of VCU’s pathogen patient unit. With my own eyes, I watched them train and prepare for real world situations. Then I saw them respond when I unexpectedly became a patient.”

There currently is no vaccine for the Zika virus. If you believe you have contracted the Zika virus, VDH recommends that you contact your health care provider to avoid potentially spreading the virus. Visit http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/epidemiology/zika-virus-update/ and http://www.vhha.com/resources/combating-zika/ for more useful information on Zika.

About VHHA: The Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association is an alliance of 107 hospitals and 30 health delivery systems that develops and advocates for sound health care policy in the Commonwealth. Its vision is to achieve excellence in both health care and health.
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