Health officials on alert after case of locally-transmitted Zika in Texas

Zika testing zone set up in Brownsville

BROWNSVILLE - The first case of locally transmitted Zika in Texas happened at the border just as many experts predicted months ago. Now, local health officials are doubling efforts to contain the spread of the virus. 

Cameron County health officials have designated a mile-long perimeter in a Brownsville community as ground zero where they believe the virus could still be present. 

Laura Garcia, a resident of the affected area, is preparing to install mosquito screens on 10 of her windows.  

She lives in the center of what health officials consider a “vector zone,” where the Zika virus has infected a 43-year-old neighbor.

Garcia says that she’s removing anything with standing water, a breeding ground for mosquitoes. She fears that her grandchildren could get bitten or for her daughter to get pregnant and have an unhealthy baby.

“We’re afraid that kids will be born with problems because of the bite,” Garcia said.

Health officials received confirmation of the first case of local Zika in Texas last week and have focused efforts on trying to study and trap local mosquitoes while educating residents on prevention.

“They need to panic just enough to be proactive,” Cameron County Health Administrator Esmeralda Guajardo said.

Guajardo noted that one of their major challenges is to get people to take proper measures, cleaning weedy lots and removing trash and tires.

“We’re doing an environmental assessment to the homes, and so we’re finding that there’s standing water and some of it’s been a while,” Guajardo said. “We’re eliminating it, we’re helping them and educating them. But I don’t know, maybe this is what the community needs to take those actions.”

Garcia is aware of recommendations such as using bug spray and wearing long clothing, but she chooses not to follow them because it’s uncomfortable, she said.

This makes Guajardo’s task more difficult. That’s in addition to the other hurdles that come with border dynamics.

“Public health along the border is like nowhere else,” she said. “You can’t mimic something that worked in Florida to work here when you have another country next to us. The data that we get will be very interesting and I think it’s going to stress that.”

As many as 100 urine samples have been taken from residents and sent to Austin for testing. If they return positive, blood testing would follow along with a wider scanning for the virus. 

Officials say they will continue to monitor mosquitoes in this area and continue spraying during the mornings and evenings. They want to kill as many mosquitoes as possible, especially those that might be carrying the virus to keep them from biting anyone else.

(© 2016 KENS)


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