The daylong gathering convened exactly 10 weeks after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sounded the alarm
on Zika virus by issuing its first travel advisory.
Four-hundred twenty-five local, state and federal health officials and experts in maternal medicine and mosquito control spent the day at the agency's headquarters getting the latest information and sharing ideas. An additional 2,500 people watched from afar via webcast.
Attendees were asked to bring draft plans and were told they'd walk away with more. "At the end of this summit we expect states will go back home with action plans in hand and we intend to provide resources," said Amy Pope, deputy assistant to the President and deputy homeland security adviser on the National Security Council staff of the White House. The hope is those resources will come in the form of $1.9 billion in emergency funding President Obama requested from Congress in February.
"This summit and congressional funding," Frieden repeated like a mantra in response to questions about how to solve nearly every issue related to the virus.
While the hope was for plans, those in attendance seemed to have their own list of needs in mind. Questions for expert panelists included requests for an improved case definition of the virus, improved maps showing birth defects and new maps of mosquito populations.
Dr. Lyle Petersen, director of the CDC's Division for Vector-borne Diseases and the incident manager for Zika response, shared a map, published earlier this week, showing that Zika-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitoes could be more widespread than previously thought, reaching as far north as San Francisco and New York.
Dr. Paul Ettestad, state public health officer with the New Mexico Department of Health, said Peterson's map made him laugh because some of the areas where the mosquito is shown, "are [the result of] just one guy in the county who drives a snowplow in the winter and does some fogging in the summertime." It's funny but also on point. He was talking about a need for improved surveillance and even a standardized way to go about collecting information on where these mosquitoes are lurking.
"You hit the nail right on the head," Petersen responded, saying there was better surveillance of the Aedes aegypti mosquito 50 years ago than there is now. Back then, there was an Aedes aegypti eradication branch of CDC, Ettestad said. "Unfortunately it got eradicated before the Aedes aegypti did," Frieden joked.
Petersen agreed better maps are needed, as well as "sustainable vector control and surveillance capacity."
Michael Doyle, executive director of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, said, "We are not prepared because we don't know where it is and isn't. Even major control districts don't know. We've been focused on nighttime control of nuisance mosquitoes. Aedes aegypti has been a minor nuisance until now."
Frieden said the key is to bridge the gap between public health and vector control. This summit is a start, he said, a forum for sharing what he called best practices, which attendees should take home and implement. He also recommended appointing statewide Zika coordinators, reviewing existing preparedness plans and increasing coordination between state and local entities.
What it all comes down to, Frieden said, "we are working together to protect pregnant women."