Summer is rapidly approaching, and so is ideal mosquito weather and the opportunity for the spread of Zika — something hospitals need to be ready for.
The 2016 National Health Security Preparedness Index, released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, shows that the United States scores 6.7 out of 10 for preparedness against public health emergencies, a 3.6 percent increase since the survey began three years ago. But, some of the regions most susceptible to the spread of Zika scored below the national level, including the Deep South.
Having many states improve their scores is a positive sign that the nation is improving, but there is concern that the South isn’t as prepared for the approaching mosquito season, says Glen Mays, professor of health policy at the University of Kentucky's College of Public Health, who leads the team overseeing the Index.
As of April 20, there have been 388 travel-associated Zika cases reported in the U.S., with no locally transmitted cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The organization also says travel-related cases are likely to increase, which could result in the local spread of the virus in some areas.
The CDC isn’t the only group concerned about the virus. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that 62 percent of Americans believe combating disease outbreaks like Ebola and Zika should be a top U.S. global health effort — behind only improving access to clean water (69 percent).
There’s a lot we don’t know about Zika, but states need to have the capability to respond in case of a larger-scale outbreak, Mays says. “What we do know is having adequate lab testing for this type of virus is important — not all states have that capability.”
The index also finds a wide variation among states in their capability for controlling mosquito populations and inabatement activities, says Mays.
Looking at more than 100 metrics — from flu vaccination rates, number of hospitals and presence of food inspection programs to infrastructure and strength of disaster planning — the index provides a composite score that reflects an overall state of health security readiness.
A total of 18 states scored higher than the national average, most located along the Eastern seaboard, in the Upper Midwest and Southwestern states.
Hospital leaders should use the findings as a dashboard to bring stakeholders together for quality improvements in their communities, says Mays.
“Preparedness is a multisector responsibility; no single actor in the community or state can do everything — they [hospitals] are critically important players, not just for health care delivery, but for the community they serve.”
To read more about what health care providers should know about Zika, visit: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/hc-providers/index.html and the American Hospital Association's Zika Virus resource page.