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Texas Reports First Non-Travel-Related Case of Zika in a Pregnant Woman

The Texas Department of State Health Services recently reported the first laboratory-confirmed case of Zika virus in pregnant woman who did not travel outside of the state.

Although the Zika virus is no longer a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, it is still making headlines as it continues to infect individuals in the United States. Most of the Zika virus coverage in the United States has focused on Miami Beach, Florida; however, back in November, Zika managed to reach another state: Texas. Now, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) is reporting the first laboratory-confirmed case of Zika virus in a pregnant resident who did not report traveling outside of the state.

According to a news update from the Texas DSHS, although the woman resided in Bexar County, she did travel to Brownsville back in November when six locally-acquired cases had been reported. The Texas DSHS reported that she did not fall ill and during her normal prenatal care visit she had been tested for the virus. They noted that, “because the infection was not transmitted in Bexar County, it does not represent an increased risk of Zika there.” Brownsville, however, is a different story. On their website, the Texas DSHS recommends that any pregnant woman who has visited or traveled to that area should get tested for the Zika virus.

As for the mode of transmission for this case, the Texas DSHS postulated that the woman was infected either via mosquito bite or through sexual contact with a partner who was infected. Due to the fact that it could have been sexually transmitted, the Texas DSHS implores those who are pregnant to “protect themselves against sexual transmission from partners who travel to [affected] areas by avoiding sexual contact or using condoms for the duration of the pregnancy.”

Spread by Aedes (aegypti and albopictus) mosquitoes that prefer to bite during the day, but can bite at night, and even throughout the winter, the Zika virus can cause a number of irksome symptoms: fever, rash, achy joints and muscles, and conjunctivitis. Although in most cases the symptoms are minor, for those who are pregnant it poses a number of serious health complications, microcephaly being chief among them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines microcephaly as, “a birth defect where a baby’s head is smaller than expected when compared to babies of the same sex and age.” This is because these babies often have smaller, underdeveloped brains which can pose many long-term issues.

However, not all pregnant women who become infected with Zika virus will pass it on to their child. Pedro Fernando da Costa Vasconcelos, MD, PhD, director of the WHO Collaborating Center for Arbovirus and Research, Evandro Chagas Institute, told Contagion in a past interview, “Only a small percentage of pregnant women will transmit the virus to [their] fetuses, and the babies will [be] born with microcephaly. Different studies [have] estimated [that] between 1% [and] 13% of these babies will develop severe malformation and microcephaly; not all pregnant women [infected during pregnancies] will [cause] severe [complications] for their babies.”

According to the CDC, 2,885 women presented laboratory evidence that suggested possible Zika virus infection in pregnancy surveillance systems from 2016 to 2017. The CDC provides pregnant women with information on how to protect themselves as well as when to get tested.

The Texas DSHS also shared a few simple tips for all individuals to protect themselves from the virus. First, they suggest that individuals apply EPA-registered insect repellents, to which they include a search tool that allows the public to “find the insect repellent that is right” for them. They also suggest wearing clothing that does not leave much skin exposed, such as long pants and shirts with longer sleeves. In order to keep mosquitoes that may be infected with the virus out of the home, they suggest to use screens on the windows and doors or to close them altogether. Avoiding any standing water outside or inside the home as well as keeping any containers were water might collect covered, are also things that can be done to help minimize the risk of infection.

Furthermore, the virus is known to spread through travel, so the Texas DSHS reminds individuals to be sure to follow travel precautions when going to any area where there is ongoing transmission of Zika virus. Some of these areas include: Latin America, the Caribbean, and a few Pacific Islands.

The Texas DSHS reminds the public that they have been dedicating their efforts to preparing for “the possible transmission of Zika virus in Texas by emphasizing how people can protect themselves.” In addition, they are “increasing the state’s capacity to test for the virus” and have partnered up with local governments to “assess mosquito control capabilities and activities.”