First confirmed case of Zika virus in Travis County

An Aedes aegypti mosquito photographed through a microscope (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
An Aedes aegypti mosquito photographed through a microscope (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The first positive case of Zika virus has been confirmed in Travis County.

The man, under the age of 50, contracted the virus while he was traveling in Colombia, according to the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department (A/TCHHSD).

The department says the mosquito that carries Zika is endemic to Central Texas.

Beginning May 1, the A/TCHHSD mosquito management program begins collecting, testing and treating mosquito breeding areas throughout Austin and Travis County. The department says Zika is mainly transmitted to people through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito.

The county’s health and human services department is encouraging people to follow travel precautions and avoid mosquito bites. Epidemiologist Jeff Taylor says, “Any woman who’s been to one of the countries where the virus is occurring who is pregnant or recognizes in the next couple of weeks that they were pregnant need to consult their OBGYN, automatically.”

The most common symptoms of Zika virus are fever, rash, joint pain and pinkeye. The illness is typically mild and resolves within one week, the department says, but for pregnant women the risk is much higher. Zika infection of pregnant women may be associated with congenital microcephaly and fetal loss. Guillain-Barre syndrome has also been reported in patients after infection, according to the health and human services department.

A/TCHHSD has already alerted local healthcare providers to be aware of Zika as they see patients, and to remember to ask about travel history. The department is also working to get a state lab in Austin to test for the virus within weeks. Currently, human testing for Zika in Texas can only be done through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Travis County has been passing on to the state authorities one to two patients a day, the state then passes them along to CDC for testing if warranted.

The CDC is recommending that all pregnant women consider postponing travel to areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. You can find more information on the recommendations for pregnant women on the CDC’s website. 

Epidemiologist Jeff Taylor speaks to the press after a Zika virus case is confirmed in Travis Co. (KXAN Photo/Paul Shelton)
Epidemiologist Jeff Taylor speaks to the press after a Zika virus case is confirmed in Travis Co. (KXAN Photo/Paul Shelton)

Thursday morning, Gov. Greg Abbott appointed 31 members to the Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response, appointing John Hellerstedt, M.D. as director. The task force was created to provide “expert, evidence-based assessments, protocols and recommendations” for the state’s response to infectious diseases. EMS Association head Tony Marquardt was named to that task force Thursday and expected Zika will be handled the way Ebola was, with care taken for first responders, “We’ve identified it as a procedural problem and no one starts their day getting infected with the Ebola virus or any other.”

On Tuesday, Dallas County announced it had the only case of locally transmitted Zika virus infection identified in the continental United States in this recent outbreak. The Dallas patient contracted Zika after having sexual contact with an infected traveler.

Faster local Zika testing possible with upcoming lab

At a 4:00 p.m. press conference, Jeff Taylor, an epidemiologist with the A/TCHHSD, said that it currently takes a week to 10 days until they get testing results sent to the CDC. With a local lab, expected to come online within weeks, that timeline could be shortened to two to three days.

Taylor says they are averaging one to two local patients a day who have symptoms consistent with the virus, and those samples are forwarded to the state health department and then to the CDC in Atlanta.

The incubation period, or the time from when an infected mosquito bites you to when you show symptoms, is four to seven days, Taylor says, but it could be up to 10 days.

For more information on how to prevent mosquito bites, visit the CDC’s website for a list of tips.

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