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Dallas Task Force Takes on Zika Virus

Dallas County officials plan to take on the Zika virus with a task force, created in response to this week’s announcement of two confirmed cases of the illness in the Big D. Twenty-six officials from cities within the county attended the group’s first meeting on Feb. 3.

Heading up the task force are Dallas County Health and Human Services (DCHHS) Director Zachary Thompson and Medical Director Christopher Perkins, plus Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, according to Fox 4 Dallas. The group plans to meet weekly. Among their missions are gathering information, providing updates, and ensuring uniform county-wide responses to mosquito-related situations.

Price pointed out: “The difference between this mosquito, Chikungunya, and the Zika, this one feeds on the blood meal all day long. Unlike West Nile, dusk to dawn.”

However, Dallas County entomologist Scott Sawlis assured task force meeting attendees that the county’s existing mosquito management programs can effectively fight the Zika virus, according to CBS DFW. DCHHS already manages mosquitoes carrying the West Nile and Chikungunya viruses, and Dengue fever.

Earlier in the week, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said the county was well prepared for possible local mosquito-borne Zika virus outbreaks because of these existing plans which survey, trap, spray, and eliminate affected mosquitoes. He told NBC DFW that the county has “much more capability to monitor and trap mosquitoes” plus can test the winged insects quicker. Jenkins noted that crews can survey an infected person’s home, lay traps for potentially infected local mosquitos and, if any test positive, spray. In the local NBC news segment, neighboring Tarrant County Public Health Director Vinny Taneja highlighted another advantage. He said: “mosquitoes don’t fly very far – 250 to 300 yards is usually the range.”

Breitbart Texas reported that one of the cases in Dallas County was the first person to sexually contracted the Zika virus in the United States. The second case accounted for the individual who contracted the virus on recent travel to Venezuela, where the mosquito-borne virus is prevalent and then, once back in Dallas, transmitted the virus through sexual contact to his partner.

Even though there are no reports of the virus being spread by local mosquitoes, this kind of transmission is possible now that Zika virus is in Texas, which Breitbart Texas reported. Triggering a Zika virus “transmission cycle” is a concern. Breitbart Texas’ Bob Price reported that pediatric specialist Dr. Jeffrey Kahn suggested such a cycle could happen should people infected with the virus, either imported or sexually acquired cases, get bitten by local mosquitoes, and, in turn, infect the mosquito population which then bites other individuals, infecting those people. “And, once that occurs, it’s almost impossible to get the virus out of the population,” said Kahn.

Task force chief Thompson identified another concern, that through sexual transmission, 80 percent will not have symptoms. That could lead to further spread of the Zika virus. Symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (pink eye) that can last from several days to a week. DCHHS advised individual who travel  to Zika virus affected regions, upon return, to use condoms to protect against sexually transmitting Zika to their spouse or partner at home.

The population at risk remains pregnant women because of Zika virus’ suspected links to poor pregnancy outcomes and the birth defect microcephaly, where babies are born with small heads because their brains stopped developing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an alert advising pregnant women to postpone travel to Zika affected areas where transmission of the virus is active.

On Feb. 3, the Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS) confirmed the latest total of 10 cases of Zika virus statewide with seven cases in Harris County, one in Bexar County, and the two in Dallas County.

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.

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