Be aware of Zika virus

A Driscoll Children’s Hospital physician who is an expert on infectious diseases wants South Texas to remain alert to the possible dangers of the Zika virus, especially with the designation of Brownsville as a Zika cautionary area.

“We are trying to create awareness,” said Jaime Fergie, MD, Director of Infectious Diseases at Driscoll Children’s Hospital. “As the number of infections continues to increase, and in particular with more cases of transmissions in the border area, we need to remain vigilant.”

The Zika virus is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected mosquito. The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting up to a week, and many people do not have symptoms or will have only mild symptoms, such as fever, rash, joint pain, red eyes, muscle pain or headaches. However, Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause severe fetal brain defects.

Health officials say there are ways for people to combat mosquito bites, such as applying insect repellent with DEET, wearing clothes that repel bugs and using an at-home mosquito-control fogging system that can be bought at most stores. Avoiding going out during peak biting hours like dusk and dawn also is recommended.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has designated Brownsville as a Zika cautionary area, which is a geographic area where local spread of the Zika virus has been identified, but there is not yet any evidence of Zika being widespread locally.

On Nov. 28, 2016, the Texas Department of State Health Services reported the state’s first case of local mosquito-borne Zika virus infection in Brownsville. Additional cases of mosquito-borne Zika have been identified in the area, suggesting there is a risk of continued spread of the Zika virus in Brownsville.

Pregnant women, women trying to get pregnant and their partners who live in or travel to Brownsville should be aware of local Zika virus transmission and should strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites.

A recent report from the CDC indicated that 10% of the 250 women infected with Zika during pregnancy delivered babies with birth defects.

In the continental United States, 5,197 Zika virus disease cases had been reported as of early April.  Of those, 320 were in Texas. Six cases are considered to be acquired in the state.

The Zika virus is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aeded aegypti mosquito. This mosquito, and Aedes albopictus (which can carry Dengue fever, West Nile virus and Zika) tend to be abundant during South Texas summers.

Dr. Fergie warned South Texans to be cautious, and to not have a false sense of complacency about the Zika virus.

“Although no cases of locally acquired Zika virus infection have been reported in Corpus Christi, we need to be aware that this may change in the future because the mosquito that transmits the virus is present in our area,” Dr. Fergie said.

“Pregnant women, and women who want to become pregnant in the near term, should avoid travel to areas of the world where Zika virus transmission is occurring,” Dr. Fergie said.

“Our main concern is the potential this virus has for causing a severe birth defect known as microcephaly, in which babies are born with an abnormally small head,” Dr. Fergie said.

“The only thing we can do right now is to be aware of the areas where transmission is occurring. The Health Department is monitoring mosquito population in the area to detect the arrival of the virus.”

“Mosquito control and use of insect repellent are our main control measures until a vaccine is available,” Dr. Fergie said.

Although there currently is not a vaccine available, U.S. health officials have begun enrolling volunteers for critical next-stage testing of an experimental vaccine to protect against Zika.

The National Institutes of Health just started a two-part study that aims to enroll at least 2,400 people in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and five at-risk countries: Brazil, Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica and Peru.

“It is imperative that public health research continue to work to contain the spread of the virus,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said March 31 in announcing the $100 million study.

More information

Nueces County and Corpus Christi residents can call the Zika virus hot line for the latest information, 361-826-7204. Details are provided by the CDC, the Texas Department of State Health Services and the Corpus Christi-Nueces County Public Health District.

For more on the Zika virus, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.