Health experts assure U.S. senator of Zika readiness

Senator Dick Durbin had questions about Zika.

Carle and Public Health experts gave him answers.

Durbin also received assurances from Carle’s Franklyn Christensen, MD (pictured with Durbin), Dixie Sexton, ADN, RN, and Eva Palmer, RN, MSN, CIC, as well as experts from the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District and the University of Illinois.

"We hope to never see a Zika case in our area, but we are watching the situation closely, and if Zika comes here, we will be ready," Dr. Christensen said.

Dr. Christensen treats women with high-risk pregnancies and is a member of the Illinois Department of Public Health's (IDPH) special Zika task force.

"I wanted to bring in the experts to learn more," Durbin said of Monday’s visit to Champaign-Urbana.

Durbin wants to see the federal government devote more money to Zika research and prevention.

The Zika virus spreads through mosquito bites and sexual contact with an infected person. It can cause microcephaly—a severe birth defect in newborn babies.

Durbin was surprised to hear it is possible that a different species of mosquito native to Illinois (Aedes albopictus) could bite an infected person and spread the virus to others. The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District is monitoring mosquito species in the area.

But the panel told the senator the main danger of spreading Zika locally is having a person travel to Latin America, get infected and spread the disease through sexual contact once he or she returns.

After listening to the panel, Durbin told The News-Gazette people need to stay informed.

"Listen to the health professionals. Listen to your own doctor or someone you trust, particularly if you are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant. This Zika virus is a danger to pregnant women, and I would take it very seriously," he said.

Information about Zika infection continues to expand.

“Just this week, we heard the first case of a woman passing Zika to through sexual contact to a man,” Palmer said. “It is important for health professionals across the country to stay informed and educate the public.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends couples delay getting pregnant for two to six months if one or both travelled to Latin America where Zika is a danger. 

Carle follows CDC guidance and has been preparing for the Zika virus for months.

"Several departments have met throughout 2016 to create Zika testing plans and be briefed on the latest updates from the CDC. That way, we know the best advice for our patients, and we can give them the best care," Dr. Christensen said. "Those meetings continue."

Christensen says people need to know the Zika facts related to pregnancy and take action to prevent mosquito bites and mosquito breeding grounds.

"The best weapon to fight Zika today is knowledge. We are doing our best to pass that knowledge on to our patients," he said.