Press Room

Health Officials Intensify Zika Prevention Efforts

ARLINGTON, VA (April 5, 2017)—State and territorial health officials are redoubling prevention efforts to address the serious public health threats associated with Zika virus and to protect the health of mothers and babies. Yesterday, CDC published an analysis of nearly 1,300 pregnant women with evidence of Zika infection, per data reported by 44 states to the U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry in 2016. About 1 in 10 pregnant women with confirmed Zika had a fetus or baby with birth defects.

In light of these findings, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) calls for continued resources to support an aggressive, long-term governmental public health response to Zika, including laboratory, epidemiological, and surveillance capacity, vector control, and public awareness and education campaigns.

With most of the women in the study acquiring Zika infection during travel to an area where Zika was present, all jurisdictions within the United States must remain on alert and prepared due to travel-related cases and sexual transmission. Also, with warmer weather and mosquito season approaching, CDC’s new Vital Signs report highlights the need for ongoing vigilance and sustained measures to prevent and manage cases of Zika, diagnose patients, increase lab capacity and vector control, and coordinate Zika-related birth defects surveillance activities, especially in parts of the United States where local transmission through the bite from the specific mosquito capable of carrying the Zika virus is possible.

“Public health has a long history of combatting and eradicating mosquito-borne diseases, but ensuring robust epidemiological and laboratory infrastructure across the governmental public health system is critical to stay ahead of the spread of Zika virus,” says Brenda Fitzgerald, ASTHO president-elect and commissioner and state health officer of the Georgia Department of Public Health. “In Georgia, for example, we have limited geographic mosquito surveillance and vector control capabilities. That causes particular concern about the 63 counties at higher risk of Zika transmission due to their dense populations, high rates of poverty, and large numbers of females of reproductive age.”

State, territorial, and local health departments play an active role in determining the risk of ongoing local transmission through enhanced surveillance and vector control activities. Health departments, together with healthcare professionals, laboratory experts, and disease control specialists, are working nonstop to protect Americans from Zika and other emerging health threats.

Strong collaboration among state and local partners is critical to protecting pregnant women against Zika and connecting affected families with medical, social, and community resources. ASTHO urges sustained investments in public health funding to give state, local, tribal, and territorial health departments the resources needed to pursue a broad range of strategies to prevent Zika virus.

ASTHO is the national nonprofit organization representing the public health agencies of the United States, the U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia, as well as the more than 100,000 public health professionals these agencies employ. ASTHO members, the chief health officials of these jurisdictions, are dedicated to formulating and influencing sound public health policy and to ensuring excellence in state-based public health practice.

###