Zika Virus — PAMED Holds Call-in to Provide a Pennsylvania Update

The World Health Organization anticipates that the Zika virus will spread to all but two countries in South, Central, and North America. Aedes albopictus mosquitoes, which are found throughout the U.S. and are known for transmitting dengue fever and chikungunya, may also transmit the virus. What is Pennsylvania doing about this virus? How concerned should Pennsylvanians be?

The Pennsylvania Medical Society (PAMED) held a media call-in on Jan. 29, 2016, to help answer these questions. The panelists for the call-in included several state and health care leaders: Loren Robinson, MD, deputy secretary for health promotion and disease prevention at the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH); Stephen Colodny, MD, and Ray Pontzer MD, both infectious disease specialists; and Kurt Barnhart, MD, chair of the Pennsylvania Section of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and a practicing OB/GYN in Philadelphia.

PAMED President Scott Shapiro, MD, and Michael Fraser, PAMED’s executive vice president, also participated in the call.

Dr. Robinson talked about alerts DOH has recently issued, including a Jan. 28 alert that has information on the process for diagnostic testing in the state. She also discussed Pennsylvania’s status and DOH’s preparations.

Though there have been no Zika virus infections identified among Pennsylvania residents at this time, she said that DOH is closely following the surveillance and advisory information coming out of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as guidance issued from national physician organizations, to ensure that we keep Pennsylvanians and their families healthy. She said that, at this time, DOH fully supports the travel advisories issued, especially with regard to pregnant women and travel to affected countries.

She also said that DOH will work with health care providers and facilities to ensure that patients with appropriate risk factors (primarily travel to the above-mentioned areas) be properly evaluated and screened, if necessary, for the Zika virus.

Dr. Robinson confirmed that the state will look to monitor mosquito activity as the weather warms up.

Drs. Colodny and Pontzer talked about the virus and how it spreads. The virus is not transmitted through casual contact. Dr. Colodny said that symptoms include fever, rash, and body aches, but also noted that most people who get infected with Zika virus have no symptoms. Dr. Pontzer added that the symptoms of the virus, when present, are mild.

As there’s an increased risk for pregnant women, Dr. Barnhart talked about what is known and unknown about the chance of transmitting the virus from mother to baby. If a pregnant woman is infected with the virus, ultrasound is recommended to assess the fetus.

“It’s reassuring to me to know that we have experts and state officials aware of the possibility of Zika arriving in Pennsylvania, and that we’re all working towards a common goal to be ready just in case,” said Dr. Shapiro.

“And, for the Pennsylvania Medical Society, our role is primarily educational ―keeping our members up-to-date through our communication channels but also working with our media partners to keep the public informed. We are in regular touch with the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And we will continue to do so as part of the team working to keep Pennsylvania healthy and safe.”

Stay up to date with the latest news, advisories, and guidance on PAMED’s Zika webpage.