Emerging Trends in Public Health
Sharing Session - 30 Minutes
When a new public health threat impacts a community, public health officials must quickly establish guidelines and plans addressing appropriate diagnosis and treatment of affected individuals. Information must be quickly disseminated to all stakeholders. In 2015, Zika virus (ZIKV), previously responsible for only minor illness in small outbreaks, was discovered to have adverse effects on pregnancy outcomes as infection numbers increased throughout the Americas. Because little was known about ZIKV at the time, CDC created initial testing recommendations based on closely related viruses and updated them periodically over two years’ time as new information became available.
Harris County Public Health (HCPH), the LHD for 2.4 million people in Southeast Texas, addressed the threat of ZIKV and the limited available information about its epidemiology, by conducting epidemiologic investigations on every report of potential ZIKV infection. Based on 1,660 investigations HCPH conducted from 2015-2017, we determined that only 45.4% of patients who were indicated for testing received it in accordance with CDC guidelines. Through patient and provider follow-up during these investigations, we increased the percentage of patients who received appropriate and complete testing to 59.6%.
Recognizing that some providers were not assessing or testing patients appropriately for ZIKV, HCPH conducted additional outreach activities to educate providers, enrolled them in our local Health Alert Network, and hosted a Zika symposium where they could learn directly from world-renown ZIKV experts. Lessons learned from ZIKV, especially the difficulty of disseminating guidelines to all healthcare providers, can be applied to any future emerging infectious disease.