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State Health Commissioner Says Zika Could Overwhelm Texas' Ability To Test Pregnant Women

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The state’s health commissioner says that if mosquitoes in Texas become carriers of the Zika virus, it may not be possible to test all of the pregnant women at risk from being bitten. Texas Health Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt expressed that concern during a conference call with doctors and nurses Friday.

Hellerstedt says so far there’s no indication the Zika virus has infected mosquitos in this state.  But it has been found in mosquitos just across the border in Mexico, and there’s concern that eventually mosquitos here will also carry the virus.  

If a person is bitten by an infected Aedes mosquito the virus can spread through entire communities. Symptoms include fever, rash and joint pain, though Helerstedt says some who acquire the virus may not know it.

“The going rate right about now is about 80-percent of the people who have a Zika infection have no symptoms,” Hellerstedt said.

And not knowing can be dangerous.  While the impact of the disease on adults and children is often minimal, the threat to pregnant women and their unborn babies is extremely high.  In utero transmission of Zika is believed to cause microcephaly in babies, a condition that leaves them with smaller, undeveloped brains. And because Zika can be transmitted through sexual intercourse as well as by mosquitos , a man with Zika may pass it on to a prospective mother.

Helerstedt says Texas’ high birth rate in some parts of the state could cause a special challenge if Zika infects mosquitos there.

“It won’t be possible to test every pregnant woman if we have to do so over a broad area.  One of the things, when I was visiting Harlingen, they have 8,000 or 9,000 pregnant women alone.”

Helerstedt says so far all of the more than 30 confirmed cases of Zika in Texas were brought here by people who traveled to Central or South America, or Mexico.

He says the state is working with authorities to test mosquitos for Zika.


Credit Ryan Poppe
Dr. John Hellerstedt is the state health commissioner in the Texas Department of State Health Services