On Public Health Security - March 2016 - CDC Work Intensifies to Fight the Zika Virus

CDC Work Intensifies to Fight the Zika Virus


On Public Health Security
March 2016
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Stephen C. Redd

Dear Partners,

On January 22, CDC activated and began coordinating the Zika virus response from our Emergency Operations Center (EOC). Soon after, on February 8, CDC moved to the highest level of activation to intensify support of CDC experts, public health departments, and national and international response partners. Since CDC established the EOC in 2003, this is only the fourth incident that led us to activate at this level—Hurricane Katrina, H1N1 Influenza, and Ebola were the others—underscoring the seriousness and scale of this outbreak. I am proud to share some highlights of CDC’s response and how the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response (PHPR) contributes to CDC’s Zika efforts.

CDC Staff Come Together to Combat Zika. When CDC activates, Emergency Operations Center staff work within the structure of the Incident Management System (IMS), which allows us to efficiently coordinate with jurisdictions affected by Zika, as well as many different organizations and partners working on the response. From January 22 to March 16, about 800 CDC staff from offices across the agency worked on the Zika response. These staff have expertise in areas essential for combatting the virus, including the following:

  • Arboviruses (viruses like Zika that can be transmitted by mosquitoes)
  • Vector (mosquito) control
  • Blood safety
  • Epidemiology
  • Laboratory diagnostics
  • Reproductive health
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Birth defects and developmental disabilities

Using their unique areas of expertise, CDC teams support the response in many ways. CDC staff conduct surveillance for the virus in the United States and its territories, develop laboratory tests to detect the virus, study the link between Zika and microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome, and provide information to health-care providers and the public (including those traveling to areas with Zika).

PHPR Provides Expertise in Emergency Management. Among the many CDC staff working on the response so far, more than 200 come from PHPR. PHPR staff work across the entire IMS structure, with substantial contributions in emergency management (i.e., situational awareness, operations, planning, finance/procurement, staffing, and logistics). A key example of PHPR work is getting CDC staff and resources to locations quickly. As of March 22, our staff have deployed 153 experts to work on Zika (with 62 still on deployment), and are working to send out an additional 42 people. So far, experts have deployed to locations in the United States, U.S. territories (American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico), Brazil, Columbia, the Marshall Islands, Panama, and Switzerland (to support WHO).

SNS Delivers Zika Prevention Kits and Supplies. PHPR’s Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) helps ensure that medicine and supplies are available in the event of a public health emergency. For the Zika response, SNS assembled an initial 5,000 Zika Prevention Kits (ZPKs) and commenced delivery to Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa starting February 25th. The kits contain items that pregnant women can use to protect themselves from the virus and from the mosquitoes that transmit the virus. Contents included insect repellent, mosquito netting, condoms to help prevent sexual transmission, and mosquito tablets to kill larvae in standing water, as well as thermometers for monitoring one’s temperature and educational materials from CDC. A second round of ZPKs will be assembled and distributed in the coming weeks. SNS has also delivered laboratory supplies for Zika testing to American Samoa and is facilitating vector control contracts for affected U.S. territories.

Task Force Supports States, Localities, and Territories. The EOC established a State Coordination Task Force (SCTF), that engages strategically with state, local, and territorial health departments. Due to PHPR’s long-standing public health emergency management work with jurisdictions through the Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) cooperative agreement, PHPR staff make up a large part of this task force. The SCTF developed the Top 10 Zika Response Planning Tips: Brief Information for State, Tribal, Local, and Territorial Public Health Officials, and the Zika Virus Risk-Based Preparedness and Response Guidance for States and Action Plan Template, which provide recommendations jurisdictions should consider as they develop state-specific Zika action plans. In addition, the SCTF established three different country desks (the Continental United States Desk, the Pacific Islands Desk, and the Caribbean Islands Desk) to triage requests from deployed staff and external partners. The SCTF also conducts national calls and calls with select jurisdictions identified as high risk for Zika transmission or experiencing high volume of travelers from affected areas. During the calls, the SCTF updates partners on current activities, response goals, and CDC guidance and recommendations. The SCTF also conducts weekly partner check-in calls to discuss Zika response activities, provide situational awareness, and identify priority issues.

Most people infected with Zika virus don’t have symptoms, but for those who do get sick, they usually have only mild symptoms or are not even aware they have the virus. However, given that the virus has links to devastating birth defects and could be linked to Guillain-Barré syndrome as well, we are working tirelessly to halt its spread. As the response continues to evolve, I will update you about our efforts. In the meantime, please visit the CDC Zika website for the latest information about Zika and our response activities.

Thank you,
Stephen C. Redd, MD
Director, Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Resources and Information

CDC’s Public Health Matters Blog features 5 Things You Really Need to Know about Zika. In addition, the blog’s latest post details how to take steps to reduce the number of mosquitoes in homes and communities for protection against Zika.

Traveling to areas with Zika? CDC’s Zika Travel Information webpage provides the latest travel information, as well as advice about preventing bug bites.

Clinicians interested in gaining the latest information about emergency preparedness and response topics, including Zika, can visit CDC’s Clinician Outreach and Communication Activity (COCA) website. This website provides information about COCA’s conference calls and webinars, and how to sign up for COCA email updates and reminders.

Upcoming Conferences

TRAIN, the learning network for public health professionals and volunteers, is holding its annual meeting May 3-6 in Lawrence, Kansas. The meeting brings together agencies and organizations to share information, tools, and resources on workforce training and development. Registration is by request through the Public Health Foundation, the event sponsor.

Registration remains open online for NACCHO’s 2016 Preparedness Summit. The conference, entitled “Planning Today for Rebuilding Tomorrow: Resiliency and Recovery in the 21st Century”, will be held in Dallas, Texas from April 19 – 22. The summit will include workshops, plenary sessions, and exhibits related to public health preparedness and resiliency.