Texas public health officials issued an alert to doctors, urging more Zika testing along the Texas-Mexico border, considered a high-risk area for the virus to spread in the event of local transmission.
The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) announced Monday they asked doctors to increase Zika testing in six border counties – Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, Willacy, Webb, and Zapata.
“We don’t have any evidence that the virus is being transmitted by mosquitoes in Texas, but as Zika continues to spread in the Western Hemisphere, now is the time to increase our surveillance,” said Dr. John Hellerstedt, DSHS commissioner. “Doctors should be looking for Zika in their patients, and everyone should be taking personal precautions to prevent Zika infection.”
The department recommended testing all pregnant women in the select counties if they exhibit two or more Zika symptoms regardless of whether or not they traveled to Zika-affected regions. The most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (pink eye). Statewide, the DSHS recommends testing for anyone with three Zika symptoms and all pregnant women who traveled to areas with active Zika transmission, even if they show no signs of the virus.
Although there are no reports of locally-spread Zika in Texas, these Rio Grand Valley counties at the state’s southernmost tip remain at higher risk for the virus’ transmission. This is based on the area’s experiences with local transmission of Dengue fever, a virus like Zika. Both are spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, native to Texas. Cases of Dengue are most commonly reported from August through December.
Public health officials have long feared the Rio Grande Valley could be one of the first places hit by Zika in Texas. Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine in Houston, told NBC DFW the alert is a good start, but more south Texas counties may need to be added. “I might consider expanding the area where we are going to do expanded Zika testing to Harris County as well as possibly Bexar County as well,” he said.
In May, Breitbart Texas reported on the threat Zika poses to the Texas-Mexico border and Gulf Coast regions. The State remains on high alert for the virus since August when the Miami outbreak occurred. Officials continue to roll out preparations to lessen Zika’s impact should it spread via local mosquitoes. In February, Breitbart Texas reported the DSHS feared such a “transmission cycle” could happen in the Lone Star State.
As of October 3, Texas reported 218 Zika cases, all associated with travel Zika-infected regions. This count includes 13 pregnant women, two infants infected before birth, and two people who contracted the virus through sexual contact from partners infected outside the United States.
The State accounted for 75 women in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Zika Pregnancy Registry. This includes the aforementioned 13 pregnant women plus pregnant women and newborns who test Zika positive but are not listed as Zika cases because they have no symptoms or because the infection can not clearly be identified as Zika.
DSHS continues to advise pregnant women to delay travel to areas where Zika is actively spreading. The department also cautions against unprotected sexual contact with partners who recently traveled to active Zika regions since the virus spreads through sexual transmission.
People can take simple precautions to prevent the mosquito bites, in general, and forestall the possible spread of Zika–apply an EPA-approved insect repellent, wear long pants and shirts that cover exposed skin, use air conditioning indoors, keep window and door screens in good condition, and remove standing water from around the home.
Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.