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LAREDO, Texas — Current and relevant public health care issues such as the zika, chikungunya viruses, and rickettsia bacterium, were shared and discussed during the 5th Annual U.S.-México Regional Binational Health Conference on Diseases and Emergencies Updates.

The event was held Friday at the UT Health Regional Campus Laredo. Organizers said the annual event helps Laredo and Nuevo Laredo prepare with adequate actions and strategies in case of a contingency.

Oscar Gerardo González Arrambide

“We need to go back to the prevention aspect of health,” said Oscar Gerardo González Arrambide, Director for the Health Jurisdiction No. V in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. “It seems like we forgot this, and now we put our efforts in acting after the illness hits, instead of preventing it, as it should be.”

The necessity to get families to participate with agencies by taking simple actions such as keeping their yards clean was made during the presentations.

“If we don’t do that, the authorities can make all the efforts necessary, and can spend a lot of money without reaching their goals,” González Arrambide said. “The priority is to eliminate anything where any amount of water can be accumulated to end the mosquito reproduction cycle.”

This year, Nuevo Laredo has reported three cases of dengue, a low quantity considering that in 2016, the city had around 20 cases.

Héctor F. González

Nuevo Laredo hasn’t reported any zika and chikungunya cases, but Laredo has had six zika travel related cases and has done over 1,900 zika tests among expectant mothers in the community.

Regarding the rickettsia bacterium, Laredo has confirmed ten cases in 2017 – when normally there’s only one or two – and Nuevo Laredo has confirmed eight cases.

While the rickettsia cases in Laredo were transmitted by fleas, in Nuevo Laredo they were transmitted by the tick, but at the end it is the same vector, officials explained.

“So, we are monitoring and notifying the public to clean their yards, get rid of all trash, dispose of tires in a proper manner, and to use repellent,” said Héctor F. González, Director for City of Laredo Health Department.

González added the importance of taking care of pets because they can also get ill and spread illnesses to humans.

Still, the zika virus keeps the health departments working in ways to prevent cases in the area.

“We keep this binational coordination because whatever it is affecting one side (of the river) it will affect the other side. This is we need to keep working together,” González said. “Our efforts are towards the promotion and prevention.”

The border region is on alert for any mosquito transmitted diseases, but a priority is to spread the word between pregnant women.

Waldo Lopez, Associate Director of the City of Laredo Health Department, has participated in the five binational health conferences, and he said the event has been used to transform the messages and the themes to address the emerging conditions.

Lopez remembered how in 2009 there was the H1N1 alert, and how nowadays the emerging condition is zika.

“But it’s also important to keep in mind that the common denominator of all the diseases is diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and then you have tuberculosis (TB), HIV, sexually transmitted diseases,” Lopez said. “Other diseases in public health like vaccine preventable diseases are pulled together and it brings out the complexity of the interaction that needs to happen every year.”

Meetings between the health departments not only occur during the annual event but every month.

The Laredo Health Coalition meets on the third Thursday of every month, and it has almost 15 partner agencies, and the Binational Health Coalition meets on last Friday of every month. Another committee meets to talk about TB, and another one unites epidemiologists on both sides of the border.

Waldo Lopez

“During these meetings, we also share our success stories, because we know whatever is working on this side, can do the same on the other,” Gonzalez said. “In Laredo prevention is a priority because we have a huge uninsured population, but also many Laredo residents visit the doctor in Nuevo Laredo.”

Lopez said sharing of information is beneficial to both sides.

“Having one illness in Nuevo Laredo it means a lot to Laredo too, and vice versa. Our goal is to work together, to control, to intervene and prevent the spread of diseases in our community,” Lopez concluded.