TPR Lifeline: Texas Website Devoted To Infectious Diseases
August is part of peak mosquito season here in Texas. Those pesky insects do a lot more than just create itchy bumps. They carry some serious diseases. Now, Texans have a website created just for them to keep up with news about emerging health threats. In today’s TPR Lifeline, Bioscience-Medicine reporter Wendy Rigby talks with infectious disease specialist Jan Patterson, MD, of UT Health San Antonio.
Rigby: Dr. Patterson, your group, the statewide Emergency Preparedness Education Group, formed in 2014. How did that come about and why?
Patterson: Well, if you remember, 2014 is when we had Ebola in Texas. And so the state recognized, and then-Governor Rick Perry recognized, that there needed to be some way of getting information and education out to not only the public, but especially healthcare professionals and first responders about what to do about certain emerging infectious diseases like Ebola and others like that that were contagious and a public health concern.
Let’s remind people what happened there because a case showed up in Dallas and certainly that’s nothing Dallas hospitals ever prepare for.
That’s right. And the other thing that we learned was really Ebola was a lot more contagious in the hospital setting than we thought it would be. So we learned some lessons from that and that really heightened healthcare workers’ awareness and concern. And other hospitals wondered what to do, other institutions wondered what to do. And we realized we really need a very facile system for getting out information to our healthcare world.
The Department of State Health Services is sponsoring the development of online learning modules. How can Texans access those?
All they need to do is to log on to txidr.org. And they’ll see there the learning modules. And they just sign in and create an account and they can take advantage of that. Right now the learning module that we have available is on personal protective equipment and how to wear it. So it’s primarily applicable and relevant to healthcare professionals and first responders that wear that kind of equipment. Very soon we’ll be having modules on Zika and on pandemic influenza. And those will be more relevant to the general public as well.
And I understand people can sign up for emails or texts. Are these like alerts?
We have a summary of timely information on emerging infectious diseases that have come up during the week. And those get summarized in an email. So if you sign up for our emails, you’ll get a weekly email from Texas Infectious Disease Readiness that will update you on that information. And also you can sign up for texts at txidr.org. if there’s something really new and breaking news that’s important to get out right away.
I’ve always believed that it’s better to be prepared than scared. And so, is that what you’re hoping this website will do for people?
Sure because it’s always better to have a lot of information out there. With Ebola, it was a learning lesson and we didn’t have all the information in the beginning. But just getting out what information was known and information as it happened was very important. And that’s how we see this is educating our healthcare world and our first responder world and the general public about these infections as they emerge.
What are some of the other infectious diseases that you would like Texans to be aware of that you don’t know that they know much about?
Patterson: Well, chikungunya is one that we’re starting to see more of as people travel to the Caribbean and other places. We’ve seen Texans come back with this infection after travel. And there’s the potential for having it more in Texas because the mosquitoes that carry it live in Texas. So there’s potential that we could have more infection here. Dengue is another. We need Texans to learn about this and be prepared about this. It’s mostly preventing mosquito bites, but what to do, how to recognize this infection, why it’s important.
Protecting yourself from mosquitoes. Not a very sexy topic, but so important, especially this time of year, right?
Well, that’s right. And, in fact, and of course there’s been the newly-diagnosed case of Zika in Texas. We got the news that in Hildalgo County there was a case of Zika in someone who hasn’t left the state of Texas. So they got it from a Texas mosquito. Learn to protect yourself and recognize those kinds of diseases.
What do you like about this project?
It really connects organizations statewide and first responders because they’re on the front line and they need to know information about these infections.
Moving on into the 21st century.
Dr. Patterson, thanks for your expertise.