By Chris Adams
As public health officials from the U.S. and around the globe struggle to understand the threat Zika virus represents, journalists covering the fast-spreading disease have a wealth of information to choose from – even if answers remain elusive.
In a webinar from the National Press Foundation’s Evelyn Y. Davis Studios, three experts discussed the risks of Zika, as well as the public’s response to it. Zika virus disease is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected mosquito. The symptoms generally are mild, but researchers recently concluded that a Zika infection during pregnancy can lead to a serious birth defect called microcephaly.
From the Pan American Health Organization, Dr. Marcos A. Espinal, the director of the Department of Communicable Diseases and Health Analysis, described the global response to the epidemic. The World Health Organization recently declared Zika a “public health emergency of international concern.” PAHO, part of the WHO, maintains an ongoing site for the latest research on Zika, and it updates Zika numbers in a weekly release.
Dr. Jesse L. Goodman, a professor of medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center and a former chief scientist for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, gave a detailed overview of the process the FDA would use to approve any Zika vaccine. The FDA also maintains extensive information on its role in overseeing Zika research, as well as vaccine and test development.
Liz Szabo is a public health and medical reporter for USA Today who has covered dozens of Zika developments – as well as previous public health emergencies such as Ebola. She pointed reporters to other federal resources, such as the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, both of which maintain wide-ranging information on Zika research and developments (NIH, CDC).