Oct 21st 2016 | Posted in Healthcare by Priscilla Loebenberg

Zika experts are spreading the word across Texas about the dangerous virus carried by mosquitos. Department of State Health Services (DSHS) officials have presented educational sessions in Arlington and Eagle Pass; and more sessions are planned in Corpus Christi, Cameron County, Beaumont and El Paso. The agency is also running a media campaign to increase awareness.

“We are trying to amplify the prevention and protection messaging at the local level,” said DSHS Communications Specialist Lauren Jones-McClain.

Texas has had 232 reported cases of illness due to the Zika virus, including 14 pregnant women, two infants infected before birth and two people who had sexual contact with travelers. So far, none of the reported cases of Zika in Texas have been associated with local transmission. However, many experts agree the disease will likely become local in the near future.

“It’s not a case of if, but when, we will see a Zika localized case,” said Zachary S. Thompson, director of Dallas County Health and Human Service, at a recent panel discussion organized by the Texas Tribune.

The majority of people who contract Zika experience only mild symptoms, However, for pregnant women who contract the disease and pass it on to their babies, the impact can be catastrophic.

“We must remain vigilant to keep Zika at bay. Otherwise, we are putting the lives of newborns at risk because a significant percentage of those who are infected with Zika at birth will go on to develop heartbreaking cases of microcephaly or other birth defects,” said  Binh-Minh “Jade” Le, assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, who was also on the panel.

In addition to the severe physical and emotional damage to the child and family with a microcephaly diagnosis, there is also an economic cost. Panel members estimated the cost of caring for a child with severe microcephaly over the course of its lifetime to be $10 million.

Vector control, or eliminating the mosquitos that cause Zika and other viruses, was one of the top priorities of the panel members. The costs associated with Zika prevention may be high, they said, but the costs of treatment could be astronomical.

Experts are hoping to see more funding from state and federal sources to improve vector control in Texas. They also want to see a vaccine developed to protect against the virus.

For more information about Zika prevention, visit www.texaszika.org.

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