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Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists

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Assessment Shows Nation’s Guard is Down Against Zika Virus and Mosquito-Borne Diseases

Atlanta, GA, February 08, 2016 --( The Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) supports President Barack Obama’s request of $1.8 billion to combat Zika virus. Declared a “global health emergency” by the World Health Organization, Zika virus increasingly threatens to spread local epidemics in the contiguous 48 states as mosquitoes proliferate in coming months. However, federal support of critical funding for response to mosquito-borne illness has eroded, according to a recently published assessment report conducted by CSTE and partner organizations. This evidence shows the urgency of President Obama’s funding request.

Epidemiologists at the state and local level are primarily responsible for monitoring the health of their jurisdictional populations. A cornerstone of their work involves detecting and responding to new public health threats like Zika virus. Epidemiologists are already facing an early challenge - only one in five Zika-infected individuals develops symptoms, and only a small percentage of the population seeks medical attention for its often mild symptoms. Lab tests are available but need refinement, and there is currently no antiviral treatment or vaccine. So, as evidence mounts that the virus may be linked to infant microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome, the American public may soon face an epidemic due to Zika’s ability to stay “under the radar” of public health detection.

“I’m concerned that our health department will be extended beyond our epi capacity,” says Hawaii State Epidemiologist Sarah Park whose state faces an ongoing outbreak with one mosquito-borne disease, dengue, and the threat of two others, Zika and chikungunya. “We need to remember that while one emergency is ongoing, a new outbreak from a completely unrelated disease may arise. What health departments really need is long-term, sustainable funding applicable to all vector-borne diseases in the broadest sense.”

The Zika virus epidemic could catch the nation off guard, much like the 1999-2004 West Nile virus (WNV) outbreak did when it spread to the 48 contiguous states and resulted in 667 deaths. The April 2014 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report article “National Capacity for Surveillance, Prevention, and Control of West Nile Virus and Other Arbovirus Infections” describes how the national arboviral surveillance infrastructure built for WNV response was compromised by a 61-percent decrease in Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity grant funding from 2004 to 2012. The report summarizes the effects of defunding: 67 percent of national jurisdictions decreased mosquito trap sites, 70 percent decreased mosquito pools tested, and 45 percent decreased tests on humans. Furthermore, only 62 percent of jurisdictions in 2012 had a formal plan for killing adult mosquitoes in the event of an outbreak.

“Building epidemiology capacity to anticipate this threat should be among our nation’s highest public health priorities,” says CSTE Executive Director Dr. Jeffrey P. Engel. “Only through the active tracking of Zika virus can we rapidly detect outbreaks and safeguard the public’s health.”

Founded in 1951, CSTE is a non-profit organization representing 1,650 applied public health epidemiologists in all U.S. states and territories.
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Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists
Chad Mccoull

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