Separating hype from reality with the Zika virus

By Heather Grimshaw
February 23, 2016

As media outlets publish headlines about the Zika virus, which was declared a world health emergency by the World Health Organization, practice administrators are most likely reaching for disease and disaster preparedness plans to ensure patient safety.

Some MGMA members are focusing on patient education. For example, in response to patients’ questions about the Zika virus, the team at Madison (Wis.) Women’s Health posted an article on its website with information and resources.

“A simple education and awareness approach to the Zika virus may be enough to address and ease patient concerns,” says Julie Loomis, RN, JD, assistant vice president, Risk Education, SVMIC, Brentwood, Tenn. “Practice websites, social media sites, patient portals and posters might all be effective means of communicating information to raise awareness. Practice managers might use this emerging risk as an opportunity to educate all patients on tips to avoid mosquito bites of all species, which potentially carry health risks ranging from minor skin irritation to severe brain damage and even death.”


The virus is mainly transmitted to humans through the bite of Aedes species mosquitoes, most commonly Aedes aegypti and possibly Aedes albopictus, according to the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which reports that the Zika virus was first detected in the Region of the Americas (Americas) in Brazil in the spring of 2015 and had spread to 26 countries and territories in the Americas as of Feb. 17, 2016.

Providers are encouraged to discuss risks with pregnant patients who plan to travel to a growing list of countries and to watch for signs of the disease upon return. The CDC extended its warning Feb. 19 to include “routine care for infants born to mothers who traveled to or resided in areas with Zika virus transmission during pregnancy but did not receive Zika virus testing, when the infant has a normal head circumference, normal prenatal and postnatal ultrasounds (if performed), and normal physical examination.”

Are you prepared?

Research shows that 87.69% of MGMA-designated better-performing practices have an emergency preparedness plan in place while 76.9% of these practices have patient safety policies and procedures in place. Better-performer profiles are published in the MGMA 2015 Performance and Practices of Successful Medical Groups, which details these performance-management categories: profitability and cost management; productivity, capacity and staffing; accounts receivable and collections; and patient satisfaction.

Loomis suggests sharing the following tips with patients:

  • Mosquitoes that spread Zika virus bite both indoors and outdoors, mostly during the daytime; therefore, it is important to ensure protection from mosquitoes throughout the entire day.
  • Use an Environmental Protection Agency-registered insect repellent and follow the directions.
    • If using sunscreen, apply sunscreen first and insect repellent second.
    • Using an insect repellent is safe for pregnant women and nursing mothers.
  • Cover exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants, socks and hats.
  • Avoid wooded areas and high grass, particularly during peak mosquito biting hours.
  • Regularly empty standing water from flower pots, gutters, buckets, birdbaths, pet dishes, etc.
  • Repair or install window and door screens.

MGMA compiled the following list of resources to help prepare for infectious disease outbreaks as well as disaster plans for all types of healthcare organizations:

For future reference, see this page from DDS:

Disaster Information Management Research Center
Zika Virus Health Information Resources

The page includes the following:

U.S. Federal Agencies
U.S. Organizations
International Organizations
National Government (non-U.S.) Web Sites
Pregnancy and Zika Virus
Free Resources from Publishers for Medical Responders
Biomedical Journal Literature and Reports
Situation Reports
Genome, Sequences, and Virus Variation
Laboratory Detection and Diagnosis of Zika Virus
Research, Development and Funding
Surveillance and Control of Mosquito Vectors
Social Media
Multi-Language Resources
Health Resources for the Public

Heather Grimshaw, senior editorial manager, MGMA Corporate Communications

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