NORTH TEXAS (CBSDW.COM) – North Texas and the world are paying attention after a person in Dallas County became infected with the Zika virus through sexual contact. It is the first case of sexually transmitted Zika virus in the United States.
Officials with Dallas County Health and Human Services (DCHHS) explained that one person went to Venezuela and got infected. The infected person then returned to North Texas and through sexual transmission infected the second individual.
DCHHS has also established a Zika Task Force. Leaders say the group with DCHHS environmental health will meet weekly with officials in Dallas County municipalities to gather information, give updates and ensure that leaders are “on the same page” in terms of response.
During the meeting with representative from 26 member cities, Dallas County entomologist Scott Sawlis assured everyone that the mosquito management system currently in being executed is also effective for the mosquito that carries Zika virus.
The information about the sexually transmitted case, and the second person that infected the first, means there are two people with Zika virus in Dallas County. Statewide, there have been nearly a dozen Zika cases reported.
The North Texas information comes just days after the Who Health Organization (WHO) declared a state of emergency over the Zika virus and its suspected link to birth defects.
While the Zika virus rarely results in hospitalization or death, the biggest concern is the virus’s possible link to microcephaly, a condition that causes babies to be born with unusually small heads. WHO declared the global emergency on Monday because of a spike in babies born with brain defects and small heads in Brazil. Zika virus was first found in Brazil last year. According to officials with the Centers for Disease Control, there is no risk to a fetus in the sexually transmitted case of Zika virus in Dallas County.
Health professionals were already warning pregnant women, or those who were trying to get pregnant, to avoid traveling to Zika-affected countries. Since the sexually transmitted case in Dallas County, men are now being warned to re-think their travel plans too.
While a link between Zika virus and microcephaly hasn’t definitively been established, Dr. Sofia Ansari, an infectious disease specialist with the Methodist Health System, had some suggestions for North Texans.
“I think anyone who has recently traveled to these areas, that is South America, Central America and the Caribbean, they should be very careful and try to use protection,” she said. “We don’t know about long-term studies regarding Zika virus and its association with pregnancy. The best thing would be prevention at this time.”
As it stands, there is currently a Zika virus epidemic in Latin America and the Caribbean. The virus is transmitted to people by mosquitoes and through sexual activity. And according to the CDC, about 1 in 5 people infected with Zika virus become ill.
The latest cases of Zika in Texas have sparked new warnings from doctors. Dr. Ed Dominguez, a physician at Methodist Dallas Medical Center, said, “If I were in a relationship with someone who had Zika, I would shake hands with them, hug them, embrace them… until I have more information.”
In addition to the two people infected in Dallas County, there is one confirmed case of Zika virus in San Antonio and seven others in the Houston area. About 80 percent of infected people never even experience virus symptoms.
The most common symptoms of Zika virus are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache. The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting several days to a week.
There is no medication to prevent or treat Zika infections. Anyone who is infected or believes they are infected should get plenty of rest, drink lots of liquids and take medicine such as acetaminophen to help with fever and pain. Health workers say aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen and naproxen, should not be taken.
The American Red Cross is urging prospective blood donors, returning from Zika-affected countries, to wait at least 28 days before donating blood.
One North Texas city is interested in the mosquito that transmits the Zika virus. Crews in Southlake plan to set out traps to try and catch yellow fever (Aedes aegypti) mosquitoes. City officials say they want to see if the Aedes mosquito is in the area, and look for “population spikes that indicate a nearby breeding source to be treated or removed.” The testing will begin in April, when mosquitoes become active.
The best way to avoid Zika virus is to avoid mosquito bites and to avoid sexual contact with a person who has Zika virus. But it is important to note that Aedes aegypti mosquitoes bite during the day.
There are currently no reports of Zika virus being locally-transmitted by mosquitoes. However, imported cases make local spread by mosquitoes possible.
Recommendations to avoid Zika virus are similar to West Nile virus. North Texas health officials are urging residents to:
- DEET—Use bug spray and protect clothing with repellents containing permethrin or DEET;
- DRESS—Dress in loose, light- colored clothing with long sleeves and wear long pants;
- DUSK/DAWN—Limit outdoor exposure at dusk and dawn;
- DRAIN—all areas of standing water including changing water in wading pools, birdbaths, and cleaning out gutters
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