Mosquito testing for Zika virus could begin in Central Texas

Mosquitos with the Zika virus (CDC)
Mosquitos with the Zika virus (CDC)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Katie Cobbs’ two toddlers keep her busy. She’s about to add another member to the family, expecting her third child in August.

“This has been my least miserable pregnancy,” says Cobbs jokingly.

Pregnant women like Cobbs are the most at risk if they’re bitten by a mosquito that carries the Zika virus, because the disease can cause birth defects.

“I mean it’s concerning, especially because we’re about to enter into summer and I have two little ones, and we’re definitely not going to be staying indoors all summer,” explains Cobbs.

So far, there have been no mosquito-borne cases of Zika reported in the United States. The U.S. cases all involve people who were infected after traveling to other countries.

John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, says the state lab in Austin could start testing mosquitoes for Zika soon, but only if it’s necessary.

“If we get evidence of local transmission via mosquitoes, testing the mosquitoes themselves will probably play some role in that scenario, but that scenario hasn’t happened yet,” explains Hellerstedt.

Hellerstedt also says testing mosquitoes isn’t that effective.

“[If you] tested 1,000 mosquitoes, and there was no Zika present, it wouldn’t really tell you that the next house over or the next block over didn’t have a problem.”

He believes the best thing we can do is get rid of standing water and use bug spray, something Cobbs will be doing.

“Being healthy yourself and keeping the baby healthy is first priority over anything,” said Cobbs.

Even though the Texas Department of State Health Services does not currently test mosquitoes for Zika, it does test human blood for the virus. The department believes testing people is still the best way to detect the virus.

Harris County is the only known county in Texas with a system in place to look for Zika.

A spokesperson says every mosquito is tested for several different diseases. If it comes back positive for Chikungunya or Dengue, that’s a signal it could carry Zika. Then they do further testing to confirm the illness. The spokesperson says they’re confident right now the disease is not in the Houston area.

More than sixty local health departments have asked the state to start testing mosquitoes for Zika in Central Texas. Hellerstedt says the Texas Department of State Health Services is currently putting together a plan to respond to the Zika virus. They will then share the plan statewide with local health departments. Hellerstedt believes they will then have better insight on the most effective way to respond to the virus.

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