Specialists discuss emergency services, public health and Zika

■ BY SUE ERWIN     doctor-lecture

A panel of health specialists spoke to residents at the Boca Grande Community Center auditorium on Tuesday, Nov. 15 on topics ranging from emergency assistance and medical support to updates on the Zika virus.

Boca Grande Health Clinic physician Jeffrey Humbarger, MD moderated the event.

Lieutenant Mike D’Angelo from the Boca Grande Fire Department addressed the importance of calling 911 from a landline as opposed to a cell phone when people are in need of emergency assistance. “Always choose the quickest mode of action to get help, but it’s important to note that when you call from a home phone, it automatically locks in your address, so we can get to you very quickly,” he said.

He also suggested that you should always be sure the landscape around your home is trimmed and that the house numbers are easily visible at your residence. He reminded folks to make sure your island hurricane tags are current, noting that the current tags are turquoise in color.

Lee County Emergency Services Chief Benjamin Abes said Lee County takes about 86,000 emergency calls annually and is staffed with about 320 employees. The topic of area hospitals was also brought up. Abes said that Lee County ambulance EMTs can transfer patients to any of 12 different hospitals in the region, depending on specific needs. “We try to get to every call as rapidly as possible, identify the problem quickly, and then make a decision about where to transport. We want to get you to a facility that will be able to provide care for your particular case,” Abes said.

Rob Farmer from the Lee County Department of Public Health said that emergency management staff employees have heavy responsibilities, and he urged residents to comply with them as much as possible. “It might seem like our staff asks a lot of questions, but we need to be sure we have all the necessary information to help you,” he said.

Florida Department of Health representative Jennifer Roth addressed the Zika virus and shared current updated information with the audience. “We had our first case of Zika reported in Lee County in January, 2016. To date, there have been 13 travel-associated cases in Lee County,” Roth said.

An important fact she shared is that if someone is infected, that person can only carry the virus for one week, and then it will die off, like an influenza virus. She reminded the crowd of the four symptoms of the virus: fever, rash, joint pain and reddening of the eyes. “But 80 percent of people who contract it do not show any of these symptoms,” she said. She also pointed out that the virus is only carried by two specific breeds of mosquitos out of 30 that exist in Southwest Florida. “And Lee County arguably has one of the best mosquito-control branches in the country,” she said.

She closed the discussion by saying that the Florida State Health Department will test pregnant women for free if they have traveled abroad, are showing symptoms and think they might have contracted the virus. Anyone else who thinks he or she may have been infected can be tested at any private clinic or commercial laboratory.