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Brownsville Zika Case Sparks Door-To-Door Visits

State and local healthcare teams have descended on a Brownsville neighborhood, after evidence that a woman there has contracted Zika from local mosquitoes.  Florida is the only other state where that has happened.  Most in the United States who’ve tested positive for the virus got it while visiting other countries.

  

The healthcare workers in Brownsville, like those in Florida, are systematically trying to prevent the virus from spreading.  

In an 8-block area of southwest Brownsville  health workers like Erica Silva are going door to door looking for standing water where mosquitoes may breed, telling residents how to get rid of them, delivering educational materials in English and Spanish.

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Credit Wendy Rigby / Texas Public Radio
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Texas Public Radio
Cameron County Health Department workers are distributing educational materials to houses in a targeted area of southwest Brownsville.

  

This neighborhood is home to the woman who tested positive for Zika.  

City workers have trapped mosquitoes here and sent them off to the state to be tested.  Zika has raised alarm bells world-wide because it can cause severe, irreversible birth defects in unborn babies.

In just one day, healthcare workers in this border community have collected more than a hundred voluntary urine samples that will be tested for Zika. Cameron County Health Administrator Esmeralda Guajardo said with so many people going back and forth across the border with Mexico, it’s likely there are many more travel-related cases. There may also be some cases transmitted by area mosquitoes.

Brownsville Zika Case Sparks Door-To-Door Visits
Another report from Brownsville by Wendy Rigby

  

"We do expect that there’s going to be people walking around with Zika so we’re going to expect some positives," Guajardo explained. "We have a country next to us. And we’re looking at it from a bi-national perspective, too."

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Credit Wendy Rigby / Texas Public Radio
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Texas Public Radio
The targeted neighborhood is mostly residential with low and middle income housing.

  

Mosquito season may be over in other parts of the country and further north in Texas, but Brownsville is a sub-tropical  city peppered with palm trees. The November temperatures still reach into the 90s.

The warm, humid climate makes this city a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes year-round.  That’s why Guajardo is not surprised a local, non travel-related case of Zika has emerged.

"This is something you always prepare for, but you just never know when it’s going to happen," Guajardo said. "You wait for it."

Last month, state health officials stepped up the testing of pregnant women in counties along the border. If the mothers-to-be show two of four Zika symptoms, officials suggest they be tested. Those symptoms are fever, red eyes, joint pain and rash.

The surveillance area where Erica Silva is knocking on doors includes more than a hundred structures and an estimated 500 plus residents.  It’s mostly residential, low and moderate income housing. Silva says residents have been cooperative so far.

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Credit Wendy Rigby / Texas Public Radio
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Texas Public Radio
Cameron County Health Department workers are going door to door in a southwest side Brownsville neighborhood.

  

Rafael Carrasco has a house on Roosevelt Street, in the targeted area. He’s armed with his own battery-operated bug sprayer. "It’s a never ending war," he said. "I’ve been preparing for them like a Boy Scout. And I annihilate them. Like I’ve annihilated probably more than a million mosquitoes over the last 10 days."

Carrasco said he’s impressed with the health department’s quick, coordinated response. He thinks it’s needed. "I’m glad that they’re doing it because a lot of neighbors aren’t educated on this stuff," he added.

Results from the first collection of urine and mosquito tests are expected by the end of the week.  Local health officials will then have a better idea of the scope of the threat. While Health Administrator Guajardo doesn’t want people to panic in a major way, she believes a little bit of panic is helpful to motivate residents to act.

"Pick up the little panic just enough to get them to be proactive," she said. "Personal responsibility is crucial."

Prior to this case, Cameron County had reported eight travel-related Zika cases. Number nine, however, has been a game-changer, an indication that mosquitoes transmitting the virus are in our own South Texas communities.