More than 300 local, state, and federal government officials, health experts, and nongovernment partners gathered April 1 at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to prepare for the likelihood of mosquito-borne transmission of the Zika virus in some parts of the continental United States. The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa already are experiencing active Zika transmission.
Hosted by the CDC, the one-day meeting brought together officials from local, state, and federal jurisdictions, as well as nongovernment organizations, to help ensure a coordinated response to the mosquito-borne illness linked to microcephaly, a devastating birth defect. The summit aimed to identify gaps in readiness and to provide technical support to states in the development of Zika action plans that will allow their jurisdictions to effectively prepare for and respond to active Zika virus transmission.
“The mosquitoes that carry Zika virus are already active in U.S. territories; hundreds of travelers with Zika have already returned to the continental U.S.; and we could well see clusters of Zika virus in the continental U.S. in the coming months. Urgent action is needed, especially to minimize the risk of exposure during pregnancy,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “Everyone has a role to play. With federal support, state and local leaders and their community partners will develop a comprehensive action plan to fight Zika in their communities.”
Summit attendees heard the latest scientific knowledge about the Zika virus, including implications for pregnant women and strategies for mosquito control. The meeting also included opportunities to learn about best communications practices; to identify possible gaps in preparedness and response at the federal, state, and local levels; and to help address those gaps, including through the refinement of draft Zika action plans. Representatives from state and local jurisdictions met with experts to obtain technical assistance and guidance on such plans.
Presenters included CDC experts on Zika’s risk to pregnant women and their fetuses, on the identification and diagnosis of Zika virus infection, on mosquito control, and on what local and state leaders can do about the current health crisis. Representatives from Florida, New York City, Texas, and Puerto Rico discussed state and local responses to other mosquito-borne diseases, including chikungunya, dengue, and West Nile virus.
The CDC also released a Vital Signs report with information that reinforces previous CDC guidance and suggests actions that women and their sexual partners can take to prevent Zika virus infection during pregnancy. The Vital Signs report describes what the U.S. government is doing, what state and local public health agencies and health care providers can do, and what can be done to prevent mosquito bites that potentially spread Zika. The report also includes an updated map of the U.S. with the latest available information on where the mosquitoes that have the potential to transmit the virus have been found.
Zika virus disease is spread to people primarily through the bite of infected Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes. Sexual transmission has also been documented. There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika virus infection. The most common symptoms of infection include fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis. In previous outbreaks, the illness was typically mild, with symptoms lasting for several days to a week after a person was bitten by an infected mosquito. However, mounting evidence has linked Zika virus infection in pregnant women with microcephaly in newborns. In adults, Zika has also been linked to Guillain–Barré syndrome, in which a person’s immune system damages the nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis.