Getting ahead of Zika virus, Dallas leads the way

Zika virus has been looming all winter, but local governments can get ahead of the problem as mosquito abatement season begins

By Ray Barishansky, MPH, MS, CPM

It’s clear that the lessons learned by the city and county of Dallas, Texas, from the recent Ebola situation are being implemented as Zika threatens to rear its ugly head.

Dallas was the epicenter of Ebola as the first Ebola-impacted patient was seen at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, one of the city’s largest medical facilities. There was also some initial confusion — seen both locally and nationally — as to how to appropriately treat Ebola patients. This was borne out as we witnessed nurses being exposed to the virus, confusion as to who would lead the public health response to Ebola, and even pictures of Dallas police officers wearing masks while scrubbing sidewalks outside of patient’s apartments.

Understanding the potential seriousness of Zika, Dallas has taken the lead in assuring its testing equipment is ready, developing public relations campaigns including radio advertisements and moving up its mosquito abatement sprayings. Clearly they have brushed off their pandemic response plans quickly.

State and local governments have received millions of dollars from the Federal government since 9/11 to bulk up their own planning, preparedness and response capabilities to public health emergency situations of all varieties. Time has demonstrated that it is these very entities that will be the "boots on the ground" responders for at least the first few days of any emergency situation, public health included.

It is incumbent on local government to work collaboratively with state government to implement strategies now, before there is potentially a wave of Zika infection seen across the U.S. These measures must include proactive communication with the public about Zika realities, aggressive mosquito abatement strategies and assuring that local, state and federal health authorities are delivering a consistent message.

Forward thinking public health maneuvers such as the aforementioned put Dallas ahead of the game for this, and other, public health crises. Other municipalities should take a lesson from Dallas’ lead.

About the author
Raphael M. Barishansky, MPH, MS, CPM, is a solutions-driven consultant working with EMS agencies, emergency management and public health organizations on complex issues including leadership development, strategic planning, policy implementation and regulatory compliance.  He has previously served as the Director of the Office of Emergency Medical Services (OEMS) at the Connecticut Department of Public Health (2012-2015), as well as the Chief of Public Health Emergency Preparedness at the Prince Georges County, Maryland Health Department (2008-2012). He also writes for EMS Magazine, the Journal of Emergency Medical Services, EMS Insider, Domestic Preparedness Journal, the Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Emergency Management Magazine, Public Safety Communications and others.

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