First West Nile Case Highlights Precautions for Mosquito-borne Diseases

News Release
News Release
May 16, 2017

News Release
May 16, 2017

Everyone Can Help Prevent West Nile and Zika

Texas’ first West Nile illness of the year has been reported to the Department of State Health Services, an adult woman from Montgomery County who developed the neurologic form of the disease in late April. As mosquito counts climb, the state of Texas is appealing to the public to help with the effort to stop mosquito-borne diseases by preventing mosquito bites and eliminating areas where mosquitoes can reproduce.

“Diseases like Zika and West Nile remain threats in Texas, and we need everyone to do their part to protect themselves, their families and their communities,” said DSHS Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt. “These are simple steps, and if people take them consistently, they will go a long way toward reducing the number of cases of either disease transmitted in Texas.”

To help stop the spread of Zika and West Nile, people should

  • Use EPA-approved insect repellent every time they go outside.
  • Cover exposed skin with long pants and long-sleeved shirts whenever possible.
  • Use air conditioning or window and door screens that are in good repair to keep mosquitoes out.
  • Limit outdoor activities during peak mosquito times.
  • Remove standing water in and around homes, including in trash cans, toys, tires, flower pots and any other containers so mosquitoes can’t lay their eggs.
  • Use a larvicide in water that can’t be drained to keep mosquitoes from developing.

In 2016, Texas reported 370 human cases of West Nile illness, including 18 deaths. Most people who get infected don’t get sick, but about 20 percent will experience symptoms like headache, fever, muscle and joint aches, nausea and fatigue. In about one percent of infections, the virus can affect the nervous system, causing neurological symptoms such as disorientation, tremors, convulsions, paralysis, coma and even death.

On the other hand,the illness Zika causes is usually mild, but the virus can have a profoundeffect on unborn babies whose mothers are infected during pregnancy. In somecases it can cause severe birth defects like microcephaly, a defect leading toa small head because the brain doesn’t grow sufficiently during pregnancy.Texas has had 334 cases of Zika virus disease since the virus became a concernin the Western Hemisphere in 2015. The vast majority have been contractedabroad, though six cases were transmitted by mosquitoes in Brownsville latelast year, and others spread through sexual contact or from mother to child.

 

DSHS recommendspregnant women avoid traveling to locations with sustained, local Zika transmission,including all areas of Mexico. Because Zika can also spread through sexualcontact, pregnant women and their sexual partners who have traveled to thoseareas should use condoms or avoid sexual contact during the course of thepregnancy.

 

With transmissionoccurring in Mexico, the border region remains the most likely area in Texasfor Zika to spread, though much of the state is at risk due to the distributionof the mosquitoes that transmit the virus. DSHS continues to be on guard forZika by recommending expanded testing that aims to identify cases transmittedwithin Texas so state and local governments can respond quickly to stop thespread. The state public health lab in Austin continues providing testing tofind the virus in people and is now testing all mosquitoes capable oftransmitting Zika that are submitted as part of routine mosquito surveillance.DSHS also has recently issued mosquito control guidance for local governments on howbest to use the tools at their disposal to fight Zika by reducing mosquitopopulations.

 

DSHS is currentlyworking to train at least 500 community health workers along the border toeducate the public and pregnant women about Zika and help them get theappropriate testing. DSHS is also planning to support teams of community healthworkers and case managers inside local health departments who will workdirectly with pregnant women who may have been exposed to Zika to help themaccess specialized prenatal care and help affected newborns get the care theyneed.

 

Starting May 1, Texasbegan providing this year’s statewide Medicaid benefit for mosquito repellentto prevent Zika virus transmission. The Texas Health and Human ServicesCommission is offering the repellent to more Medicaid clients to ensureadditional Texans are protected from the virus. For the first time in Texas,some boys and men will be eligible to receive the benefit, as well as womenages 45 to 55.

 

DSHS Zika testingrecommendations, insect repellent information and more is available at TexasZika.org. Texas recommends testingpregnant women who have traveled to areas with ongoing Zika transmission andanyone statewide with at least three of the four most common Zika symptoms:rash, fever, joint pain and conjunctivitis (eye redness). Additionally, DSHSrecommends all pregnant women living Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, Webb, Willacy andZapata counties be tested along with anyone in those counties who has a rashplus one other Zika symptom.

 

Health care providerscan subscribe at the Health Care Professionals page of TexasZika.org to stay up to date with DSHSrecommendations. There is more information about West Nile virus at /idcu/disease/arboviral/westnile/.

 

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(News MediaContact: Chris Van Deusen, DSHS Director of Media Relations, 512-776-7119)