Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) Secretary Vickie Yates Brown Glisson, Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles, representatives from the Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH), renowned experts and response partners gathered in Lexington on May 11 for the 2017 Kentucky Zika Summit.
This conference, held at the Lexington Center, brought together healthcare professionals, environmental specialists, state and local community leaders, emergency managers, school officials and numerous service organizations from across the state. The group gathered to discuss the current state of the Zika virus threat and determine what strategies and policies will best mitigate the threat.
“It’s important that public health leaders gather to share strategies, compile feedback from our local communities and learn more about global response and communications efforts surrounding the Zika virus,” said Sec. Glisson, who provided an overview of what the state is doing to prepare for a possible Zika outbreak. “Over the last 12 months, we have adopted the tagline Dress, Drain, & Defend to Fight the Bite Day and Night to help prevent mosquito bites and eliminate areas around our homes and in our communities where mosquitoes breed. This is crucial in helping people understand the issues and to better direct the public’s personal protection and prevention efforts.”
Topics discussed at the Zika summit included: Overview of the Threat of Zika Virus Infection; Zika Virus Update; Congenital Zika Infection: Prenatal Diagnosis and Neuropathology; Kentucky’s Zika Response Plan in Action; Zika Hot Topics; Florida’s Response to Local Vector Borne Transmission of Zika; Mosquito 101: Growing Threat of Vector Borne Diseases; The Role of the Healthcare Provider; Importance of Monitoring Insecticide Susceptibility of Mosquitoes; A Risk Communications Approach to Talking About Zika and Pesticides; The Miami-Dade Zika Control Operation; U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry and Zika-Related Birth Defects Surveillance; Perceptions of Zika Virus Among Travelers to Zika-Affected Areas; Zika-Related Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices Among Women of Childbearing Age Who Received a Negative Zika Test; and Zika Panel Discussion.
Several stations focused on various topics related to Zika prevention for summit attendees in the display area where subject matter experts provided information on: preventing travel-related transmission; Kentucky’s mosquito population; public mosquito control efforts; addressing standing water issues and removing mosquito breeding grounds around the home; and personal protective measures like insect repellent and appropriate clothing. The event also introduced “Marty Mosquito,” public health’s mascot for Zika prevention and awareness.
“Mosquito control is critical to preventing Zika virus and minimizing the spread of West Nile Virus and other mosquito borne diseases,” Commissioner Quarles said. “We join Secretary Glisson and the Kentucky Department for Public Health in encouraging all Kentuckians to take every possible measure to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds. The Kentucky Department of Agriculture also works to reduce the mosquito population by spraying for mosquitoes at the request of local leaders. We can all help Fight the Bite Day and Night.”
Zika has been identified by the World Health Organization as an international public health threat; ongoing local transmission is occurring in more than 60 countries. No locally transmitted cases of Zika virus have been reported in Kentucky. Zika virus is not known to be circulating in the mosquito population in Kentucky currently. DPH and the Department of Agriculture have a working plan to respond to mosquito control issues if the virus enters the state’s mosquito population and are emphasizing the importance of localized and individual prevention.
To date, 37 cases of Zika virus have been reported in Kentuckians with a travel exposure and/or sexual exposure to someone who traveled to a Zika-affected area.
There is no vaccine to prevent infection and no specific antiviral treatment for Zika. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and red/burning eyes. Recent evidence reveals that Zika can cause microcephaly and other fetal birth defects in infants born to women who are infected during pregnancy. Microcephaly is a condition where a baby’s head is smaller than normal because the brain does not develop properly. Microcephaly due to Zika infection can be found alone or in conjunction with other birth defects.
“Zika virus is spread primarily through the bite of an infected mosquito and is circulating in many areas of the world where Kentuckians travel for vacation, work and mission trips,” said Dr. Ardis Hoven, infectious disease specialist for the Kentucky Department for Public Health. “Zika can also be transmitted sexually, so people who have recently traveled to a Zika-affected area should take precautions to prevent transmission to others. Many people infected with Zika virus experience mild or no symptoms, so may not even suspect that they’re infected. We have been stressing the importance of taking preventive measures, like using repellent and wearing appropriate clothing, and wanted to have this event to demonstrate what we have been saying about prevention.”
Travelers to Zika virus-affected areas who develop fever, rash, joint pain, red inflamed eyes, or other acute symptoms within two weeks of return to Kentucky should consult with their medical professional. Pregnant women and their partners should postpone travel to areas with active Zika virus transmission. Couples who are planning to become pregnant should postpone conception for 6 months after travel to a Zika-affected area and should discuss plans for pregnancy with a healthcare professional. Travelers returning from Zika-affected areas are reminded of the importance of wearing mosquito repellent for three weeks after returning and to practice safe sex to help prevent transmission and protect other Kentuckians.