Joyce Godwin | Joyce@CedarbrookMedia.com
With the rising Texas temperatures for summer, comes warnings about mosquito transmitted diseases. Most notable at this time is the Zika virus and the Texas Department of State Health Services is already tracking information and sending out warnings.
As of May 26, Collin County has been reported with one case of the Zika virus, but it is early in the season. The DSHS provides updates every Tuesday on its website on the number of Zika virus diseases cases in Texas by the patient’s county of residence. Twelve Zika cases have been reported for 2017 with 323 cases reported for 2015 and 2016.
Collin County is not currently included in the high-risk areas of the state. The Texas DSHS is expanding its testing guidance for residents of six South Texas counties. In these counties, the DSHS has recommended testing for all pregnancy residents as well as any who have a rash plus at least one other common Zika symptom such as fever, joint pain or eye redness. The high-risk areas named are Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, Webb, Willacy and Zapata counties.
For the rest of the state, DSHS recommends testing anyone who has at least three of those four Zika symptoms and all pregnant women who have traveled to areas with ongoing Zika transmissions, including any part of Mexico.
“Zika remains a significant health risk to pregnant women and their babies, and it’s only a matter of time until we see local transmission here again,” said DSHS Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt. “We want to cast as wide a net as possible with testing to increase our ability to find and respond to cases, and the Lower Rio Grande Valley remains the part of the state most at risk for Zika transmission.”
Zika testing is widely available through commercial labs, so 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.”
DSHS says as temperatures continue to warm up, mosquito activity will increase, so people statewide should protect themselves from mosquitoes at home and while traveling to areas where Zika is spreading. Precautions include consistently using mosquito repellent when outside, wearing long sleeves and pants, and using air conditioning or making sure window screens will keep mosquitoes out of the home. Texas is also calling on people to pick up trash and dump out containers that could hold standing water in and around their homes and businesses to deny mosquitoes a place to lay their eggs, decrease the overall number of mosquitoes, and help protect family members and neighbors from Zika.
The Zika virus is transmitted to people primarily through the bite of an infected mosquito, though it can also spread by sexual contact. While symptoms are usually minor, Zika can cause severe birth defects in babies of some women infected during pregnancy. DSHS recommends pregnant women follow CDC advice to avoid traveling to locations with sustained, local Zika transmission, including all areas of Mexico. Pregnant women and their sexual partners who have traveled to those areas should use condoms or avoid sexual contact during the course of the pregnancy. The health alert and additional information on precautions and travel advice are available at TexasZika.org.
A letter was sent recently to all Texas school superintendents and school board members about the dangers of the Zika mosquito. “Combatting Zika begins at the local level. When done in concert, these simple steps represent a big step toward preventing the spread of Zika.” The letter was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott, Commissioner for DSHS Dr. John Hellerstedt and Mike Morath, Commissioner for TEA. It states, “We encourage all schools and communities to take action now to address the threat of Zika virus in Texas. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us or your local health department as we work to limit locally transmitted cases of Zika in Texas. DSHS stands ready to provide technical expertise as you prepare school campuses for the summer months. Please feel free to send any questions to TexasZika@dshs.texas.gov.”