The Zika virus has been making news over the past year as we approach the coming Olympics in Brazil, a known location heavily populated by the species of mosquito known to carry the virus. I sat down with Dr. Patrick O’Neal of the Georgia’s Department of Public Health, and Dr. Cherie Drenzek, Epidemiologist for the State of Georgia to talk about what we need to be thinking about here in Georgia.
Dr. Cherie Drenzek grew up in Detroit and received her bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences and her Master’s degree in Food Microbiology from Wayne State University. She attended Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine and received her DVM in 1995. She then entered the Epidemic Intelligence Service program at CDC and was stationed in the Rabies Section. Following EIS, Dr. Drenzek was employed as an Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine.
Dr. Drenzek has been employed at the Georgia Department of Public Health since 1999 and has served in a variety of roles, including infectious disease medical epidemiologist and State Public Health Veterinarian. She served as Director of the Acute Disease Epidemiology Section and Deputy State Epidemiologist since October 2005 and was named State Epidemiologist and Director of the Epidemiology Program in 2011.
Dr. Patrick O’Neal is the Director of Health Protection for the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH), where he has oversight responsibility for Emergency Medical Services (EMS), Trauma, Emergency Preparedness, Epidemiology, Infectious Disease, Immunizations, and Environmental Health. For 29 years prior, he practiced
emergency medicine at DeKalb Medical Center in Decatur. He received his medical education at the Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans.
Zika virus (pronunciation: zee-kah) is a viral disease that is primarily transmitted to people by infected Aedes species mosquitoes. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis. The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito.
However, there can be more severe clinical outcomes, and Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly, as well as other severe fetal brain defects. Prior to 2015, outbreaks have occurred in Africa, Southeast Asia, and islands in the Pacific Ocean. In May 2015, Zika virus transmission was confirmed in Brazil and outbreaks are currently occurring in many countries in the Americas and worldwide.
No local mosquito-borne Zika virus disease cases have been reported in the continental U.S., but there have been travel-associated cases, as well as cases associated with sexual transmission from travelers to affected areas. These imported cases could result in local spread of the virus in areas of the United States where the Aedes mosquito vectors are found. A list of countries where Zika virus is currently being spread can be found at the CDC website http://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/index.html. Zika is an unprecedented public health emergency that poses significant risks to pregnant women.
This is the first time in more than 50 years that a virus has been linked to serious birth defects and poor pregnancy outcomes (and the first-ever mosquito-borne cause!). Georgia has not documented any local transmission of Zika virus, but as of the end of April 2016, has confirmed more than a dozen travel-associated Zika infections.
For general information about Zika virus and surveillance for mosquito‐borne diseases in Georgia, call your District or County Health Department or the Georgia Department of Public Health at 404‐657‐2588. You may also visit the Georgia Department of Public Health website at dph.georgia.gov. Also go to the CDC website at cdc.gov/zika/index.html.
Dr. Cherie Drenzek, Epidemiologist, Georgia Department of Public Health
Dr. Patrick O’Neal, MD, Director of Health Protection, Georgia Department of Public Health