With two Zika cases in Central Texas’ Williamson County being the only reports in the state so far this year, the Texas Department of State Health Services wants to remind travelers and people living in areas where the virus is known to be transmitted locally to take extra steps for preventing infection.
“Zika is something that is going to be on our radar for the foreseeable future,” DSHS spokesperson Chris Van Deusen said. “Of course, West Nile is something that’s also here in Texas and it’s going to be here as well.”
Van Deusen says people traveling to Central and South America should use insect repellent and sleep in areas that are screened in with netting.
“Continue to take these steps after you get back, because the symptoms can manifest themselves up to three weeks after infection,” he said. “It’s important for people to be protecting themselves after they get back home from traveling to those places so that we don’t get Zika in Texas, mosquitoes who can then transmit it onto other people.”
Researchers at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley have grant funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study how the virus replicates and how it’s transmitted in Texas.
Currently, they’re in their second year of collecting information on how cells inside opossums react once injected with the Zika virus.
“We can study to see where does the virus replicate?” Dr. John Thomas, assistant professor of virology, said. “Does it go in the brain? Does it go into the spleen? Does it go into the liver?”
Thomas says if they find that the virus likes to replicate in certain parts of the animal’s body, they want to see if the same symptoms showing up in humans infected by Zika can be reproduced in their research.
“Specifically, the symptoms, the problems that have to deal with microcephaly, encephalitis, the brain abnormalities that were big in Brazil about two years ago,” he said. “So we’re using animals to see if we can predict how that’s going to occur so that hopefully we can design drugs or treatment interventions to protect humans against Zika infection, particularly babies and pregnant mothers.”
According to the CDC, there have been 14 cases of Zika reported in travelers in 2018. There were 15 cases acquired through presumed local mosquito-borne transmission in the U.S. Territories.