Brooks assesses local Zika virus preparedness
No one knows what the long-term threat is to our national health from the Zika virus, but U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks spent Wednesday meeting with local health officials to determine their level of preparedness.
The congresswoman came away from a meeting with Madison County Health Department officials impressed by their effort to control all mosquitoes, stay updated on the latest information, and have a plan in place to deal with a potential health crisis.
Stephenie Grimes, public health coordinator, said she adapted Hamilton County's Zika preparedness for use in Madison County.
"I went through and picked what was really applicable to our county," Grimes told Brooks during the hour-long meeting. "Going through the plan again this morning, we're as ready as we can be."
What's most troubling about the disease, however, said Brooks, is that so little is known for sure, "and that's the scariest thing."
Just before meeting with Madison officials, for example, Brooks, R-5th District, was participating in a conference call with experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, and the National Institutes of Health about the Zika threat.
The danger that children of infected pregnant women might be afflicted with microcephaly, meaning children born with abnormally small heads and other health complications, is now fairly well known.
But Brooks said one thing she learned is that new studies from countries where Zika has existed longer show that "some children who look normal, who don't have small heads, are now showing significant neurological problems ... They are certain that it is beyond just microcephaly, and we don't know what the long-term ramifications might be."
The Indiana State Department of Health has been awarded more than $3.6 million from the CDC over the next five years to protect Hoosiers from Zika virus disease.
The funds are being used to investigate illnesses, conduct mosquito surveillance and laboratory testing, support mosquito control and public health preparedness efforts and increase awareness of the Zika virus.
In addition, the grants include $2 million, distributed in annual increments of $400,000 to fund a program manager to oversee microcephaly tracking, expand Indiana's Birth Defects and Problems Registry, finance nurses who will conduct case reviews for infants identified with microcephaly.
Zika is a mosquito-borne illness that has been predominantly found in tropical locations, including Central and South America, the Caribbean and Puerto Rico.
According to the latest data, 32 Indiana residents have acquired Zika while traveling to affected areas. No cases of Zika acquired from local mosquitoes have been reported in Indiana.
"This is not going away," Brooks said, "and the public health costs and ramifications are significant."
She noted researchers are working on a vaccine and are currently conducting initial trials.
"They've got a phase 1 trial going on right now for a vaccine, but they really won't know until about mid-2018 if the vaccine is effective," Brooks said.
"Part of our challenge is we always seem to be reacting to emergencies and then have to throw a lot of extra money at it rather than figuring out how we fund adequate prevention, adequate education, and how we promote the development of vaccines. This is something that we in federal government, I don't think, do very well."
Mosquito Prevention Tips
Mosquitoes lay eggs in still water, which hatch in 7-10 days. If standing water is eliminated weekly, many mosquitoes will be kept from breeding in the first place. Here's what you can do:
• Remove standing water in ponds, ditches, clogged rain gutters, flower pots, plant saucers, puddles, buckets, garden equipment and cans.
• Check for items that might hold water including barbecues, toys, pool covers, tarps, plastic sheeting, boats, canoes and trash.
• Avoid mosquitoes by staying indoors at dawn and dusk when the bugs are most active.
• Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants while outdoors.
• Apply insect repellent that contains DEET. Use only 10 percent DEET on children, and make sure everyone washes their hands well so that they do not get any cream in their eyes or mouth. Follow directions carefully.