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Top Infectious Disease Doctor: Texas Should Prepare for Zika

Now that locally-transmitted cases of the Zika virus have been confirmed in Florida, disease specialists say South Texas and other parts of the country should get ready to deal with Zika-carrying mosquitoes here.

The buzzing of mosquitoes carries a sinister threat this year: the Zika virus, which can cause birth deformities if pregnant women are infected. The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, says by the end of the summer, Texas may see locally-transmitted Zika cases, cases not related to travel.

I hope people take it seriously enough, especially if you are a pregnant woman. ~ Dr. Anthony Fauci, NIH Infectious Disease Director

"I would not be surprised if we did see isolated local transmission in the southern part of Texas, particularly along the Gulf Coast," Fauci stated. "I hope people take it seriously enough, especially if you’re a pregnant woman. We didn’t realize until months into it that it could be transmitted sexually. It’s challenging because this is a very unique situation. This is the first mosquito-borne infection that actually results in congenital abnormalities if a woman gets infected when pregnant. And it’s also the first that’s sexually transmitted. So it’s got a double whammy there of very unique aspects to it."

Pregnant women are the most vulnerable, since one to 13 percent of babies born to Zika-infected mothers have devastating birth defects, including microcephaly. Others who are infected may experience flu-like symptoms and with Zika in their system can spread the disease to others if bitten by mosquitoes or if they have sexual contact.

Credit Wendy Rigby / Texas Public Radio
Dumping out standing water in the yard is an important part of mosquito control.

According to Fauci, local mosquito control will be important in protecting our community. But what we do at our own houses and to our own bodies will be just as important. He stressed that aggressive control includes getting rid of mosquito breeding grounds in your own yard by dumping standing water often. Also, personal protection should be a priority.

"Stay indoors to the extent that you possibly can in air-conditioned rooms," Fauci cautioned. "Make sure the screens on your doors and windows are repaired. And when you go out, try to wear clothing that covers most of the body and put insect repellent on to the exposed parts of your body.

Credit Wendy Rigby / Texas Public Radio
Repairing torn screens is one way to keep Zika-infected mosquitoes from getting into your home.

  Congress left on summer break without approving more than a billion dollars in funds to battle Zika as requested by the President. The head of the CDC says that means health officials are "working with one hand tied behind their back."

The Gulf Coast states, including Texas, are vulnerable to having local transmission. ~ Dr. Anthony Fauci, NIH Infectious Disease Director

Meanwhile, Texas is watching what happens now in Florida. The CDC recently sent workers to Laredo to monitor the potential spread of the virus already carried by mosquitoes in Mexico.

Credit Wendy Rigby / Texas Public Radio
Wearing long-sleeved shirts can help protect your arms from biting mosquitoes.

Wendy Rigby is a San Antonio native who has worked as a journalist for more than 25 years. She spent two decades at KENS-TV covering health and medical news. Now, she brings her considerable background, experience and passion to Texas Public Radio.