NACHC Hosts TeleForum on the Zika Virus

The National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) hosted a Teleforum on the Zika virus.  The national call was held this week in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Texas Association of Community Health Centers (TACHC), and Su Clinica Familiar, a health center located in Harlingen, TX, which has already established clinical protocols for screening pregnant women for the virus.

The Teleforum comes amid mounting public concern about the spread of the virus in the U.S. There are 107 travel associated cases of Zika reported so far.  There also are news reports that health officials are investigating 14 new cases of possible sexual transmission of the Zika virus.  The virus is spread by bite of an infected Aedesaegpti species mosquito and has been linked to possible  birth defects.  The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon.

“The purpose of today’s call is to hear from the experts, both from CDC and on the front lines in community health, so that we can get the right facts, put things into context and ease fears,” said Ron Yee, MD, NACHC’s Chief Medical Officer.

Dr. Yee also noted that on January 22nd, just a month ago, the CDC activated the Incident Management System in response to outbreaks of Zika virus occurring in the Americas and increased reports of birth defects and Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare autoimmune response, in areas affected by Zika.

Featured on the call was Laurence Slutsker, MD, the Director for the Division of Parasitic Diseases and Malaria for the CDC Center for Global Health.

The CDC recommends that women trying to get pregnant and their male partners talk to their healthcare provider before traveling to areas with Zika. Because sexual transmission is possible, both men and women should strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during the trip.  Also, none of the commercially available products for testing of the Zika virus are FDA approved and providers should contact local and state health departments for testing.

Some health centers are fielding calls about the virus from patients and concerned communities members. Other health centers, particularly in states where cases have been reported, are already putting into place screening protocols.

“Knowing that the mosquito that carries Zika thrives in many parts of Texas, TACHC assembled an action team as soon as news stories about the virus’ rapid spread throughout the Americas began to surface. The team meets weekly and interacts daily to prepare our health centers by providing clinical and public health resources from the CDC and other sources,” said José E. Camacho, executive director and general counsel for TACHC, located in Austin, Texas.  “Given the rapid nature of Zika’s spread, information changes daily. We are sharing this with health centers through the TACHC weekly member newsletter, an interactive chief medical officer listserv and on social media. Our health centers need to get protocols into place before the inevitable, the first patients presenting at our health centers.”

NACHC has created a web page with resources for health centers.

CDC information and resources about the Zika virus are available at this link.