CDC Stresses the Importance of Communication During US Zika Virus Transmission


Officials are stating that although the first case of locally-acquired Zika virus in the United States may be weeks or months away, the time to prepare is now.

In early April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) held a Zika Action Plan Summit to prepare state health officials for active Zika transmission. As a follow up, the CDC is hosting a series of teleconferences, which began on May 6, 2016.

The first teleconference, entitled “Health Messaging and Communication for Response to US Zika Virus Transmission,” discussed the need for targeted communications, noting that “one size does not fit all.” This is of course due to the distinct situation of each region. Several US territories, including Puerto Rico are currently experiencing active Zika transmission; recently, the first Zika-related death was reported on the island. Furthermore, it was noted that due to climatic differences within the continental United States (including Hawaii), not all states will experience active transmission, and those which do will not experience the same multitude of cases, nor will they be experiencing transmission during the same months, due to vector prevalence.

It was noted that Florida’s “mosquito season” is on the horizon, while states that are farther north may not see a rise in vector prevalence for a few more months. Due to the history of local transmission of Dengue and Chikungunya, Florida health officials predict that active Zika virus transmission will be seen in clusters, rather than in widespread outbreaks. CDC officials stressed the need of surveillance, not only of Aedes aegypti mosquitos, but of human infection, especially those in pregnant women, who are at highest risk of developing complications from the virus.

However, it was noted that communication outreach to educate the public of the Zika virus should not only be geared towards pregnant women. Health officials are emphasizing the importance of educating men and sexually active teenagers of the threat of Zika, especially since the United States has seen as many as 472 sexually transmitted cases of Zika, 44 of which are pregnant women.

In an effort to aid in understanding Ae. aegypti as a vector, Corina Blackmore, MS Vet Med, PhD, Florida state public health veterinarian, and Renay Rouse, public information officer of the Florida Department of Health in Martin County outlined preparedness measures taken during the Dengue and Chikungunya outbreaks. To raise public awareness and better understand the spread of the respective viruses, officials in Martin County (which experienced the state’s largest outbreaks), executed several measures. Reverse phone call messaging was used during the months of April and May to reiterate the precautionary steps civilians can take to control vector prevalence. Furthermore, health experts went door to door to collect blood samples to be tested for the viruses.

Ultimately, health officials were encouraged to have a set plan to answer any possible questions not only from the public, but from media as well. The importance of keeping up with media news and preserving the accuracy of communicated information in regards to Zika transmission was stressed.

The CDC currently has information on the Zika virus in Spanish and Portuguese and is working diligently to translate the information to other languages. John O’Conner, MS, lead of Joint Information Center, stated, “The first case [of Zika] may be weeks or months away, [but] the time to prepare is now."

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