Mosquito season is looming and Texas public health officials are preparing for the possibility of the Zika virus infecting the state’s mosquito population. Following missteps during the Ebola crisis in Dallas less than two years ago, officials say they are applying what they learned during that ordeal to a new infectious disease threat.
You probably remember the images plastered online and flashed across TVs of federal health officials barricading an apartment in Dallas.
It was an event Texas didn't expect. State health officials weren't prepared for it, and they bungled on a national stage. The Dallas man who contracted the disease abroad, and eventually died, was initially released from a hospital back into the community.
Amidst that scrutiny, lawmakers met in an effort to get a handle of the problem and prevent this from happening again.
It’s been more than a year and Brett Giroir, who led a statewide infectious disease taskforce at the time, says the state has learned it’s lesson. Those lessons are now informing the state’s response to Zika, a mosquito-borne illness sweeping South America.
“What we learned from Ebola will be tremendously helpful as we face future threats including Zika. I think it taught us that we need to learn to work together with all the agencies of the state,” Giroir says. “We think of Ebola as a health problem but it was also a communication issue.”
Giroir is now a senior fellow at the Texas Medical Center Health Policy Institute and is a member of a 31-person task force created by Gov. Greg Abbott early last month. The group's mission is to come up with statewide recommendations on how to prepare and respond to infectious diseases.
“When you are talking about infectious diseases in a state as large – geographically large – as Texas, it is always a large undertaking and we are mobilizing right now the thoughts and the specific procedures to recommend to the governor,” Giroir says.
The type of mosquito that transmits Zika is common here. So, Giroir says transmission in Texas is highly likely. Knowing that, the governor's task force created a special committee to focus all its efforts on Zika. Giroir says that group will be meeting very soon.