Health professionals worry the first locally transmitted cases of Zika virus within the continental U.S. will cause an unnecessary increase in patient visits that could delay care for those with more severe conditions.
“We see that type of phenomenon when anything new comes to light as far as any outbreaks,” said Dr. Dana Hawkinson, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Kansas Hospital. “Having more people coming into facilities can cause a stress in the system as far manpower goes.”
Hawkinson said South Florida providers should prepare for an uptick in patients visiting urgent care clinics, hospital emergency departments and physician offices following Monday's news that as many as 14 people in the Miami-Dade County area had contracted Zika through mosquitoes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention responded by issuing its first warning against travel to a part of the continental U.S.
Hawkinson said most people thinking about visiting their doctor over the virus should stay home. The majority of people infected with Zika will never know they were sick or will feel mild symptoms similar to influenza. For most, the disease will last several days to a week. To date, the most harmful long-term impact is the influx of babies with abnormally small heads borne to women who were infected by the virus while pregnant.
The U.S. should not expect to experience an outbreak similar to the one that's occurring in Puerto Rico, where the number of cases have reached more than 4,600 as of July 27, Hawkinson said. Healthcare within the continental U.S. provides security from a widespread outbreak.
“I think our overall public health and local infrastructures are better than a lot of places around the world,” Hawkinson said, adding that educational outreach, such as informing residents to use insect repellent is more widespread as well.
However, mosquito abatement efforts, so far, have not been as effective as health officials hoped.
On Monday, CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said mosquitoes have become resistant to the insecticides being used. It's also been difficult to spray in an urban environment with hidden puddles of standing water that breed mosquitoes.
“Just to be clear, this is a really tough mosquito to control,” Frieden said Monday. “And, therefore, it's a demonstration of how intensive the efforts need to be to control this infection.”
Frieden and others have been calling for Congress to fund efforts to combat the virus.