Texas on Alert for Local Zika, Urges Precautions

News Release
August 3, 2016

News Release
August 3, 2016

With local Zika cases detected in Florida andincreased travel to Brazil for the Summer Olympics, Texas is on high alert forlocal Zika transmission by mosquito bites and is urging everyone to strictlyfollow precautions.

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

The Texas response plan is in effect. Texashas reported 93 cases of Zika virus disease – all related to travel abroad toareas with active Zika transmission. No local transmission through mosquitobite has been detected yet in Texas. State efforts have been underway sinceJanuary to delay and minimize the impact of Zika on Texas.

“If Texas haslocal transmission, we’ll quickly announce it and describe the area ofpotential risk for Texans,” Dr. Hellerstedt said. “We’re working in lockstepwith our local and federal partners to ensure a strong Texas response.”

DSHS is spending more than $6 million instate and federal funds on disease surveillance, expanded lab testingcapabilities, public education and awareness, Zika prevention kits and other effortsto build a strong infrastructure to help protect Texans from Zika. TexasMedicaid announced today it will cover the cost of mosquito repellent for eligiblewomen who are between the ages of 10 and 45 or pregnant.

DSHS has identified and exercised eight statepublic health Zika Response Teams that are ready to deploy if localtransmission is detected in Texas. These scalable regional teams will be ableto assist local entities with investigating possible cases, evaluatingenvironments for mosquito activity, providing door-to-door education and otherresponse efforts.

Last week, state health officials briefedGov. Greg Abbott on the state’s response and preparations. Next week theGovernor’s Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response will meetagain in Austin to discuss Zika and other issues.

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

To amplifyprecaution messages, DSHS has boosted its statewide Zika public outreach campaign, which now has an expanded budget and anadditional emphasis on travelers. The website www.TexasZika.org launched in February and continues to be theanchor for the campaign and the source of official Texas public healthinformation about Zika.

While local transmission in Texas remainslikely at some point, public health officials do not expect widespreadtransmission across large geographic areas of the state. Small pockets of casesare more likely. This assessment is based on the state’s past experience withdengue, a similar virus spread by the same mosquitoes, and on the prevalent useof window screens, air conditioning, insect repellent and other mosquitocontrol efforts in Texas.

DSHS has approved more than 1,200 humanspecimens for Zika virus testing by the DSHS laboratory and the Centers forDisease Control and Prevention. Other labs across the state now have theability to test for Zika. In late July, DSHS added the more complex serologictesting for human specimens to detect Zika infection in people who may not havehad symptoms. Texas also has the capability to test mosquito specimens for Zikaas warranted for identified high-risk areas, though the best indicator of Zikaprevalence is human case detection.

Zika poses aserious threat to unborn children, and protecting pregnant women is a centralconcern. Texas has reported 42 individuals into the CDC’s Zika PregnancyRegistry. That number includes three pregnant women who are confirmed Zikacases. It also includes pregnant women and any newborns who have laboratoryevidence of Zika infection but don’t qualify as Zika cases because they havehad no symptoms or because the infection couldn’t specifically be identified asZika virus. Texas provides data to the Zika Pregnancy Registry weekly.

With localtransmission in Florida and mosquito season in full force in Texas, statehealth officials urge everyone to follow precautions to protect themselves frommosquito bites:

  • Apply EPA-approved insect repellent.
  • Wear pants and long-sleeve shirts that coverexposed skin. In warmer weather, wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing thatcovers exposed skin.
  • Use screens or close windows and doors to keepmosquitoes out of your home.
  • Remove standing water in and around the home.This includes water in cans, toys, tires, plant saucers, and any container thatcan hold water.
  • Cover trash cans or containers where water cancollect.

To avoid infectinglocal mosquitoes, people who travel to areas with active Zika transmissionshould apply insect repellent every time they go outside for at least three weeksafter they return to Texas – and longer if they develop an illness that couldbe Zika.

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(News Media Contact: Carrie Williams, 512-776-7119, carrie.williams@dshs.state.tx.us)

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