Texas Strengthens Zika Efforts as Threat Persists
July 1, 2016
Statewide Summit Set for July 6 in Valley
With mosquito season in full force, Texas continues to ramp up and expand its efforts to prevent or delay local Zika transmission by mosquito bites.
As part of those efforts, Texas is convening a statewide Zika summit in McAllen to bring together public health and other local leaders to sharpen response plans and exercise for the possibility of local transmission of the Zika virus by mosquitoes.
The daylong workshop, formally called the State of Texas Active Response to Zika (STARZ) Conference, will be Wednesday, July 6, at the McAllen Convention Center, 700 Convention Center Blvd., McAllen.
Reporters are invited to participate in a press conference and media availability from 9 to 10 a.m. at the summit. Key participants will be available for interviews until 10 a.m.
“It’s a chance for us to sit down together to coordinate our plans in detail and exercise our actions before Zika is really here,” said Dr. John Hellerstedt, Texas Department of State Health Services commissioner. “We expect to see some level of local transmission in the state, and Texas is at the forefront and ready.”
The event will include speakers addressing the state’s response plan, public outreach, surveillance and epidemiology. The central element of the event will be two tabletop exercises in which leaders walk through and discuss how they would handle both the first confirmed local transmission of Zika in their jurisdictions and also sustained local transmission.
The event is hosted in partnership between DSHS, the Texas Association of City and County Health Officials, Hidalgo County Health and Human Services, and the City of McAllen. Attendees will include representatives from public health, emergency management, blood banks and other community leaders involved in Zika response.
Texas has made significant progress in its efforts to delay and minimize the impact of Zika on the state. While local transmission in Texas remains likely, public health officials do not expect widespread transmission across large geographic areas of the state. Small pockets of cases in limited clusters are more likely. This assessment is based on the state’s past experience with dengue, a similar virus spread by the same mosquitoes, and on the prevalent use of window screens, air conditioning, insect repellent and other mosquito control efforts in Texas.
Here are highlights of some of the latest state public health efforts:
Texas Zika Response Plan. The Zika Virus Preparedness and Response Plan has been posted to www.TexasZika.org under the Zika Response tab and describes what actions DSHS will take to successfully respond to Zika. It follows a phased approach and includes specific response activities for local transmission. The plan will continue to be practiced and improved as new information becomes available.
Campaign. Texas has boosted its Zika public outreach campaign by $500,000, making it a $2.5 million campaign that will continue through the summer and will now include grassroots outreach in addition to educational materials, advertising, radio and news media. The website www.TexasZika.org launched in February and continues to be the anchor for the campaign and the source of official Texas public health information about Zika. More than 50,000 people visited the site in June.
Testing. DSHS has approved testing of specimens from more than 900 patients for Zika virus by the DSHS laboratory and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other labs across the state now have the ability to test for Zika. DSHS is also working to add the more complex serologic testing for human specimens to detect Zika infection in people who may not have had symptoms. Texas also now has the capability to test mosquito specimens for Zika as warranted for identified high-risk areas.
Surveillance. Texas has had 50 cases of Zika virus disease, including one confirmed case of Zika in a pregnant woman. All are related to travel abroad to areas with active Zika transmission. In addition, there have been 28 pregnant Texas residents with laboratory evidence of Zika infection but did not meet the case definition. Texas provides this data weekly to the CDC’s Pregnancy Registry.
Pregnant Women. With its link to microcephaly, Zika poses a serious threat to unborn children. DSHS is working to educate women and families about how to protect themselves through its Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program and via healthcare providers. The Texas WIC program is seeking to distribute Zika prevention materials, including mosquito repellent, through its breastfeeding promotion kits. DSHS is working closely with other state agencies to emphasize precaution information to their specific audiences, such as schools, daycares and women’s health programs.
“With the central goal of protecting unborn babies from Zika, we’re doing everything we can to make sure everyone knows how to prevent it,” said Dr. Hellerstedt. “If local transmission is suspected, our response will be fast and geared toward identifying actual risk and protecting Texans.”
With the upcoming holiday weekend and other summer activities, state health officials urge everyone to follow precautions to protect themselves from mosquito bites:
- Apply EPA-approved insect repellent.
- Wear pants and long-sleeve 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.
(News Media Contact: Carrie Williams, 512-776-7119)
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