September 26, 2017

In 2014, in the aftermath of the Ebola scare, the Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response was convened by then-Governor Rick Perry to better prepare first responders and primary care providers when emerging infectious diseases arise.

By Shelby Knowles
Population Health Scholar
University of Texas System
Master's Student in Journalism
UT Austin Moody College of Communication

The Task Force website, Texas Infectious Disease Readiness (TXIDR), provides interactive learning modules and easily accessible information to first responders and primary care providers for emerging infectious diseases. The site now provides continuing education for medical professionals regarding infectious diseases. Funded by the Texas Department of State Health Services, it also promotes awareness among both healthcare professionals and the general public about the threats of infectious disease and approaches and strategies to minimizing those threats.

Texas Health Journal recently spoke to Jan Patterson, MD, about the website. Patterson is the Texas IDR chair and a Professor of Medicine and Infectious Diseases at UT Health San Antonio. She is one of a number of UT System researchers and administrators at the core of the statewide initiative.

How did the Task Force come about and why?

In 2014, the crisis was Ebola. Health professionals realized we needed to get information out very quickly about the emerging infectious disease. So the short-term task force was to improve readiness while dealing with Ebola in Texas, but we also talked about the longer term, and about educating healthcare professionals about other emerging infectious diseases in the state.

So the idea for the website, TXIDR, was launched.

We learned that we needed to expedite communication about what was happening locally when infectious disease emerged. Now, we have a ready network of communication for standardizing practice, sharing best practices, and providing educational resources.

Did the framework for this network exist before the Ebola crisis?

The 2009 H1N1 influenza epidemic drew some of us together. We had a UT System-wide group that worked on H1N1 readiness at the time, but we didn’t have anything this extensive that involved other entities outside the UT system.

Who is the target audience for the website?

The primary target is healthcare providers and first responders. This was a key need for readiness and infectious disease preparedness because they are on the frontlines, transporting patients or taking initial care of people who may have one of these infections. But it’s also open to the public. We need to get information out there to the public so they have a better understanding of what’s going on.

How do you connect with medical professionals?

One of the ways is through our extensive network. We have 16 stakeholders around the state who all know about the site and resources. Then they can send it to their local healthcare professionals.

Can medical professionals use these as part of their continuing education?

Yes. We have continuing medical education (CME) modules on the website and give certificates for continuing education for different professions.

How have people engaged with the site so far? What is the best way for the community to ask questions and stay informed regarding the site?

We currently have 30,400 followers on Facebook and Twitter, about 1,600 people signed up for the weekly emails, 275 members of the learning community, and roughly 180 people signed up to receive text messages. Those who have signed up are primarily healthcare providers and first responders.

On social media, like Facebook, people can ask questions. Also, if they join our learning community on the website, they can access the continuing education modules, ask questions, and have discussions.

What are some of the other infectious diseases that you would like Texans to be aware of, especially after Hurricane Harvey?

We’ve been concerned about Zika for some time now — and we have a learning module about that. But also other infectious diseases that can be mosquito-borne, like West Nile virus. We’re always concerned when there is a rain event, like a hurricane, because there is much more standing water than usual, which can be a breeding ground for mosquitos. So, we are particularly concerned with Zika and West Nile virus.

We are always concerned about pandemic influenza because you never know when we’re going to have the next pandemic.

What do you like about this project?

There’s a lot of confusion and misinformation about infectious disease, especially emerging infectious diseases. So, this is a way to make accurate information accessible to the public, healthcare professionals, and first responders. We have the resources to educate on infectious diseases, and we’ve made it specific to Texas. We’ve directed it towards the Texas experience and what’s going on in Texas.

How do you see TXIDR in the future?

We would like it to be a resource to help prepare all healthcare providers and first responders on the frontline to be better prepared when there’s an outbreak of infectious diseases.