The Harris County Public Health Department -- which this past summer confirmed the state of Texas' first Zika-associated death -- has investigated nearly 600 suspected cases this year, 55 percent of which were pregnancy-related, according to new research released today at the American Public Health Association's 2016 Annual Meeting in Denver.
"And, we believe those case numbers will continue to rise," said Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, executive director of Harris County Public Health. "Every day we learn more about Zika. The more we learn, the more we realize that there is not a one-prong approach to combat the spread of the virus, it requires the efforts from all sectors within our health department."
The virus has forced the department to create a Zika response team of nearly 40 employees in a broad range of fields, including mosquito surveillance and control; emergency preparedness; law; policy and advocacy; environment; and veterinary health. The department is also closely monitoring the capacity of animals to spread Zika or become sick from it.
According to HCPH communications director, Elizabeth Perez, MPH, the virus has diverted key staff from other critical public health responsibilities.
"One of our physicians who was hired to focus on chronic disease, has been pulled to work on Zika, rather than spending her time in the clinics," Perez said. "While chronic conditions such as diabetes or heart disease still affect our community, Zika has required us to divert our efforts in order to protect our community."
APHA's 2016 Annual Meeting is themed "Creating the Healthiest Nation: Ensuring the Right to Health" and will focus on moving toward health equity, which means we must value all people equally, promote prevention and zero in on the social determinants of health.
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