Fighting Zika: How American Hospitals Prevent Outbreaks
The Zika virus was first identified in a forest in Uganda in 1947, according to the Center of Disease Control. Only 14 documented cases existed before an outbreak hit Yap Island in 2007. Today’s Zika outbreak stems from Brazil in 2015. So far, Zika has been reported in three U.S. territories with outbreaks in multiple countries.
The virus can cause aches, pains and the microcephaly birth defect. While there isn’t a vaccine or medication to combat the disease, mosquito bite prevention and public awareness is key to preventing the virus from spreading. Here’s how hospitals, health providers and manufacturers are working together to combat Zika and keep the public safe.
Tracking where the Zika virus is spreading is key to its prevention. IBM joined the fight by donating a one-year subscription feed to the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. The feed helps pinpoint and study highly localized rainfall, temperature and humidity data, which helps researchers and medical personnel learn more about Zika’s patterns and how different populations are effected.
IBM also runs an OpenZika Project on the World Community Grid, which helps doctors analyze chemical compounds and look for drug candidates for treatment. The project hopes to identify antiviral drugs to stop the disease once a person is infected. OpenZika researchers can access screening tools called AutoDock and VINA to evaluate how chemical compounds treat infected Zika cells.
Strengthening Hospital and Laboratory Resources
Zika can cause the previously mentioned side effects; however, it also may have little to no symptoms and leave its host carrier’s body within a few weeks. This makes it harder to catch early and diagnose. To treat patients and develop a vaccine, the CDC announced $60 million in funding to fight Zika, including strengthening laboratory capacity. Appropriately funded companies and medical providers could use it to create drug trials, purchase appropriate supplies like medical sealing solutions, launch vector control programs or wipe out the Zika-carrying Aedesaegypti mosquito population.
Travel is a major component to how Zika is rapidly spreading, so hospitals should review simple protocols to try and detect and diagnose the virus early. For example, hospital personnel should ask patients about travel history and review where Zika is spreading. Hospitals also should train their staff to care for pregnant women who may be infected with Zika. They need to know how to determine if the virus has spread to their fetus and how to care for babies born with microcephaly. Hospitals also are gearing up to work with media and the press to help raise awareness while still honoring HIPPA privacy laws.
Educating Patients and Providers
Along with mosquito prevention, education is important for fighting Zika. The Lee Memorial Health System in Fort Myers, Florida, developed an early detection case recognition algorithm. The system combines the hospital’s electronic health record (EHR) system with registration desk personnel in hospitals and physicians offices. Medical personnel can then determine if a patient has been in infected areas and work on getting an early diagnosis before it spreads.
Meanwhile, the University Health System in San Antonio is working to make it mandatory to make questions about Zika mandatory. It also has worked with the media and volunteer organizations to spread the word about Zika and its prevention.