With local Zika cases detected in Florida and increased travel to Brazil for the Summer Olympics, Texas is on high alert for local Zika transmission by mosquito bites and is urging everyone to strictly follow precautions.
“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. “Local transmission here is likely at some point. The good news is that Texas is ready.”
The Texas response plan is in effect. Texas has reported 93 cases of Zika virus disease – all related to travel abroad to areas with active Zika transmission. No local transmission through mosquito bite has been detected yet in Texas. State efforts have been underway since January to delay and minimize the impact of Zika on Texas.
“If Texas has local transmission, we’ll quickly announce it and describe the area of potential risk for Texans,” Dr. Hellerstedt said. “We’re working in lockstep with our local and federal partners to ensure a strong Texas response.”
DSHS is spending more than $6 million in state and federal funds on disease surveillance, expanded lab testing capabilities, public education and awareness, Zika prevention kits and other efforts to build a strong infrastructure to help protect Texans from Zika. Texas Medicaid announced today it will cover the cost of mosquito repellent for eligible women who are between the ages of 10 and 45 or pregnant.
DSHS has identified and exercised eight state public health Zika Response Teams that are ready to deploy if local transmission is detected in Texas. These scalable 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.
Last week, state health officials briefed Gov. Greg Abbott on the state’s response and preparations. Next week the Governor’s Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response will meet again in Austin to discuss Zika and other issues.
“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.”
To amplify precaution messages, DSHS has boosted its statewide Zika public outreach campaign, which now has an expanded budget and an additional emphasis on travelers. 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.
While local transmission in Texas remains likely at some point, public health officials do not expect widespread transmission across large geographic areas of the state. Small pockets of cases 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.
DSHS has approved more than 1,200 human specimens for Zika virus testing 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. In late July, DSHS added the more complex serologic testing for human specimens to detect Zika infection in people who may not have had symptoms. Texas also has the capability to test mosquito specimens for Zika as warranted for identified high-risk areas, though the best indicator of Zika prevalence is human case detection.
Zika poses a serious threat to unborn children, and protecting pregnant women is a central concern. Texas has reported 42 individuals into the CDC’s Zika Pregnancy Registry. That number includes three pregnant women who are confirmed Zika cases. It also includes pregnant women and any newborns who have laboratory evidence of Zika infection but don’t qualify as Zika cases because they have had no symptoms or because the infection couldn’t specifically be identified as Zika virus. Texas provides data to the Zika Pregnancy Registry weekly. With local transmission in Florida and mosquito season in full force in Texas, 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.
To avoid infecting local mosquitoes, people who travel to areas with active Zika transmission should apply insect repellent every time they go outside for at least three weeks after they return to Texas – and longer if they develop an illness that could be Zika.