Fort Worth

Texas officials on high alert for local transmission of Zika

Carlos Varas, a Miami-Dade County mosquito inspector, sprays around homes in the Wynwood area of Miami on Tuesday. Officials are concerned local transmission could occur in Texas.
Carlos Varas, a Miami-Dade County mosquito inspector, sprays around homes in the Wynwood area of Miami on Tuesday. Officials are concerned local transmission could occur in Texas. Miami Herald

Texas officials are warning conditions are ideal for local transmission of the much-feared Zika virus.

“It’s the perfect mix – local transmission in Florida, travel to Brazil, and we’re at the height of mosquito season in Texas,” said Dr. John Hellerstedt, Texas Department of State Health Services commissioner said in a statement. “Local transmission here is likely at some point. The good news is that Texas is ready.”

Joon Lee, an associate professor at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth, has been trapping and testing mosquitoes for the West Nile virus in Tarrant County. He is also concerned that Zika could gain a foothold in Texas.

“It is more difficult to control Zika transmission than before,” Lee said. “Texas is one of the states where the virus could spread well if the virus or Zika infected mosquitoes were introduced.”

Tarrant County Public Health confirmed the 14th imported case of Zika virus in the county on Tuesday. So far, the only local transmission in the continental United States has been reported in Miami.

The Tarrant County traveler had visited Grenada, a country that has local transmission of Zika.

The previous Tarrant County residents traveled to the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras (3), Jamaica, Puerto Rico (3), St. Lucia (2), St. Martin (1) and one unknown.

Texas has reported 93 cases of Zika virus disease. State efforts have been underway since January to delay and minimize the impact of Zika on Texas.

Zika has caused alarm because it has been linked to microcephaly, a a birth defect that affects the brain of babies if their mother contracts Zika while she is pregnant. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised pregnant mothers to avoid travel to South Florida on Monday.

As of July 28, the Pan American Health Organization reported 436,142 suspected Zika cases and 89,502 confirmed cases in the Americas. A total of 42 countries and territories in the Americas have confirmed local transmission of Zika.

If Texas has local transmission, we’ll quickly announce it and describe the area of potential risk for Texans.

Dr. John Hellerstedt, Texas Department of State Health Services commissioner

“If Texas has local transmission, we’ll quickly announce it and describe the area of potential risk for Texans,” Hellerstedt said. “We’re working in lockstep with our local and federal partners to ensure a strong Texas response.”

The Texas Department of State Health Services has identified and exercised eight state public health Zika Response Teams that are ready to deploy if local transmission is detected in Texas. These regional teams will be able to assist local entities with investigating possible cases, evaluating environments for mosquito activity, providing door-to-door education and other response efforts.

“We’re doing everything we can, and people have the power to protect themselves,” Dr. Hellerstedt said. “Insect repellent and information are our best defense.”

The state launched the website www.TexasZika.org in February and continues to be the anchor for the campaign and the source of official Texas public health information about Zika.

Zika can be carried by the Aedes mosquito, which bites during the daytime and likes to get inside homes. Based on the state experience with chikunungya and dengue fever, which are also transmitted by the Aedes mosquito, state officials believe widespread transmission is unlikely. The West Nile virus is transmitted by the Culex mosquito, which bites at night.

To avoid catching Zika or West Nile, individuals should:

▪  Apply EPA-approved insect repellent.

▪  Wear pants and long-sleeved shirts that cover exposed skin. In warmer weather, wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing that covers exposed skin.

▪  Use screens or close windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out of your home.

▪  Remove standing water in and around the home. This includes water in cans, toys, tires, plant saucers, and any container that can hold water.

▪  Cover trash cans or containers where water can collect.

Tarrant County Public Health has a Zika hotline (817-248-6299) and its own Zika website.

Bill Hanna: 817-390-7698, @fwhanna

The mosquito kills nearly 750,000 people each year. Malaria is the cause for the majority of these deaths, but a Zika outbreak has the Americas scared of this insect. This is how the insect spreads disease to its victims.

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