WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — The Williamson County Health Department has confirmed the county’s first travel-related case of Zika virus. Not including Williamson County’s case, Texas has had 33 confirmed cases of Zika virus disease as of May 10. Of those, 32 were in travelers who were infected abroad and diagnosed after they came home.
This is the latest example of a state trying to catch up to changing world of infectious disease. Small and medium sized county health departments do not have the resources to build labs on their own so they rely on the state health lab in Austin. That lab tests mosquito for West Nile but does not currently test for Zika.
John Teel, the executive director of the Williamson County Health district says his district and 60 other local health departments have asked the state to start testing mosquitoes for Zika.
“For Zika there is not a test authorized for Williamson County or Travis County, where we would be authorized to send whole mosquitoes for Zika. We’re limited to only sending patient’s blood and even then the patients have to have very specific criteria like having traveled to an infected country,” said Teel.
The Department of State Health Services says testing human patients for Zika is still the “gold standard”.
None of the counties in Central Texas are currently testing mosquitoes for Zika virus. Since Zika will show up in the human population before it shows up in mosquitoes, the Texas Department of State Health Services agency says human surveillance is the most efficient way to detect and monitor Zika.
Teel says 61 local health departments have asked the state health department to change their policy and test mosquitoes for Zika at the Austin lab.
“It’s very expensive to run a public health testing laboratory. We are very fortunate to have the state health laboratory — one of the most advanced labs in the world — right here in Austin, Texas,” said Teel.
The Williamson County and Cities Health District (WCCHD) Integrated Mosquito Management Program says it utilizes a comprehensive management strategy to identify and test mosquitoes that carry West Nile Virus, monitor arbovirus illness in humans and alert and educate citizens about personal protection.
The Harris County Department (services Houston-area) is currently testing mosquitoes for Zika. While their tests don’t directly identify Zika virus, the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that carry the virus are also carriers for dengue and chikungunya, which does show up in test results. Therefore, if results come back flagged, there’s a possibility it could be Zika. Currently, Harris County officials say no disease has been found in the mosquitoes they’ve trapped.
People returning from Zika-affected areas that feel sick upon return should see their physicians and report that they have traveled. Personal precautions include:
- Wear insect repellent
- Cover up with long-sleeved shirts and long pants
- Practice abstinence or use condoms
- Keep mosquitoes out with air conditioning or intact window screens
- Limit outdoor activities during peak mosquito times
The Texas Department of State Health Services is testing for Zika virus at its public health lab in Austin. The testing is used to detect Zika virus in human specimens collected less than seven days after illness onset.
While people are concerned with Zika, health officials want to remind people about the dangers of West Nile Virus. Texas experiences several cases each year, some resulting in hospitalization and even death.