Texas prepares for more local transmission of the Zika virus

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

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The state now recommends that all pregnant women in six South Texas counties — currently in their first and second trimester — should be tested for the Zika virus.

The Texas Department of State Health Services is expanding their guidance for Zika prevention for the 2017 mosquito season, as they prepare for additional local transmission of the virus, meaning people who have not recently traveled getting bitten by a mosquito and then infected. Most Texas cases, however, are travel-related.

Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, Webb, Willacy and Zapata counties are included in the new guidance. In addition to women in their first or second trimester, any pregnant woman who has a rash and at least one other Zika symptom — fever, joint pain, or eye redness — should be tested as well.

For pregnant women in Texas not in the six listed counties, they should be tested if they have traveled to areas with ongoing Zika transmission, including any part of Mexico.

DSHS Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt warned that Zika remains a significant health risk to pregnant women and their babies in Texas. “It’s only a matter of time until we see local transmission here again,” he said.

The goal in expanding their testing recommendation is to increase their ability to find and respond to possible cases. “The Lower Rio Grande Valley remains the part of the state most at risk for ZIka transmission,” Hellerstedt continued.

Health care providers can order testing through their normal channels. “We don’t want cost to prevent anyone from getting tested,” Hellerstedt said. “If the cost of testing would be a barrier for a patient, providers should contact their local or regional health department for information about testing through the public health system.”

Texas had six cases of local mosquito transmission in Brownsville in November and December 2016. The region seems to be the hardest hit in Texas, the DSHS says, because of its history of local transmission of dengue — a closely related virus — and its proximity to Mexico. For additional information on the virus visit TexasZika.org.

Easy ways to take Zika precautions

  • Use mosquito repellent when outside, wear long sleeves and pants when possible
  • Use the air conditioner or window screens to keep mosquitoes out of your home
  • Pick up trash and dump out containers of water around your home and businesses
  • Change water in pet dishes daily

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