Community Learns How to Protect Against Zika Virus at Town Hall Meeting

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Karla Lopez, Epidemiologist, answers a question from a guest during the Zika Town Hall meeting on Friday evening.
Karla Lopez, Epidemiologist, answers a question from a guest during the Zika Town Hall meeting on Thursday evening.

EL CENTRO — The Imperial County Public Health Department hosted a town hall meeting at the IID Condit Auditorium Thursday evening to address concerns and questions from the local community related to Zika, the virus that has recently gained notoriety throughout the nation and the world.

The Zika virus is a disease that is spread to humans primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito and can also be transferred through sexual contact.

If contracted during pregnancy, the virus can spread to the baby, causing a serious birth defect called microcephaly and other problems, including miscarriage and stillbirth.

“We just wanted to know what kind of questions people had regarding to Zika,” explained Maria Peinado, IC Public Health Information Officer. “Maybe they didn’t quite understand the virus or how it’s transmitted. We wanted to know what concerns the community had specific to Zika, because we want to make sure that the messages are getting out to the community and we want to know if we need to maybe change some messages to make sure they’re better understood. It was a way for us to assess that with our community and and basically have a conversation with them. We really focused the town hall on their questions, we really wanted to make it about them and what the people want to know instead of us just presenting facts and having it go one way. We wanted to have that two-way conversation with our community to see what kind of questions they had and where we need to put more of our effort in for our messaging.”

The public was highly encouraged to attend if they had concerns or questions related to Zika. An option was also made available to submit questions prior to the meeting via email, phone, or social media.

“It was an opportunity for the community to have access to subject matter experts in public health and really hear directly from those people who are working in the field with Zika,” said Peinado. “It’s very rare for us to bring epidemiology, MCAH (maternal child and adolescent health), emergency preparedness, environmental health, and vector control all in one location for the public to just give us their questions so we can make sure they have the right information.”

Five members of the Public Health staff, who currently serve in Environmental Health, Emergency Preparedness, Maternal Child and Adolescent Health, Epidemiology and Vector Control, were available at the meeting to address specific concerns, answer questions, and provide information related to Zika. The meeting began with public health staff member Chris Herring who gave a brief presentation on the four recommended methods to protect against and prevent spreading the Zika virus. The four recommended methods include covering up and using insect repellent, removing standing water, keeping mosquitoes out of your home, and using condoms during sexual intercourse.

The public health staff members then answered previously submitted Zika-related questions.

“There has been no known cases of the Zika virus in the Imperial County,” stated Karla Lopez, an epidemiologist.

The staff members then began to answer questions from the public at the meeting.

“When should I get tested for the virus?” asked a member of the community.

“There is no recommendation for a screening test,” stated the public health staff members.”The recommendation is, if you’re returning from a place where the Zika virus is present, and you are feeling symptoms, you need to consult with your provider and a case will be made if necessary.”

“I have talked to two doctors already and they know nothing about the Zika virus,” another member of the community asked.

“In April, we went out to all the healthcare providers and gave them plenty of information on what the healthcare recommendations are in the observance of Zika,” responded the public health staff.

Another member of the public was concerned that since children are out of school at the moment and likely to travel down south, how members of the general public were being informed about the virus.

“We do have a very strong network with the schools and health providers. Schools in particular. This is the first public event and aim to hold more and spread meetings throughout the county,” responded the public staff members.

Once all questions and concerns were answered, the meeting concluded with the staff members reminding the public to stay safe and follow the four recommended methods of protection. A table was set up at the meeting with examples of things that could be used in protection against the virus, such as insect repellent.

“I think it went well,” commented Peinado. “We had over 20 people show up. It’s the middle of summer, we know a lot of people are busy with vacations and doing fun things, so the fact that people took time out of their schedule to come here, spend an hour with us and talk about Zika and public health, I think that demonstrates that this is important for people. I was very pleasantly surprised that we got this turnout. It’s wonderful. It shows us that the public is interested. We’re going to go back and look at the questions asked today and see if they were all under the same theme and have a discussion afterwards about what we need to do.”

More information about the Zika virus can be found at www.cdc.gov/zika.

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A table was set up at the meeting with recommended protection against the Zika virus.