Houston Health Department

Symposium to set up task force to develop monitoring for local Zika-related birth defects

Local public health officials, health care providers, infectious disease experts, community-based organizations and government leaders will convene at the Zika Birth Defects Symposium to help strengthen Houston’s efforts to combat the Zika virus.

The symposium, sponsored by the Houston Health Department (HHD), represents the first step in setting up a local Zika virus workgroup responsible for developing rapid active surveillance of microcephaly and central nervous system defects associated with maternal Zika virus infection. It is set for May 11 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza-River Oaks, 2712 Southwest Freeway.

Keynote speaker Dr. Carl Vartian, an infectious disease expert, will explore the impacts of Zika in Brownsville, the only Texas city where local mosquitoes have transmitted the virus to people. He will also discuss collaboration between hospitals, clinics and communities to advance prevention, control and intervention methods.

Other speakers include Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine; Cassandra Pasley, BSN, JD, director, Children’s Medical Services, Florida Health Department; Mark Canfield, PhD, manager, Birth Defects Epidemiology and Surveillance Branch, Texas Department of State Health Services; Larry Siegler, MD, Bureau Chief of Clinical Laboratory Service, Houston Health Department and Kjersti Aagaard, MD, associate professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Maternal-Fetal Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine.

The symposium is the first of a planned yearly conference of diverse experts gathered for a citywide forum to discuss ways to improve surveillance techniques, data-sharing, early interventions and referral to services.

Zika virus can spread from a pregnant woman to her fetus during pregnancy. It is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. It also can be spread by people who are infected to their sex partners.

Many people infected with Zika have no symptoms. Of those who do have symptoms, the most common are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika.

HHD is sponsoring the conference using grant funds from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Online registration is at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/zika-birth-defects-symposium-tickets-32598783840. For more information about the symposium, call 832-393-5076.