With mosquitoes buzzing again, it’s time to reach for the repellent

You may have noticed the buzz. Mosquito season is back in full swing, and with it the concerns about the threat of Zika infection.

Bexar County has recorded one confirmed case of Zika in 2017, adding to the 20 cases it reported last year. All the cases so far are thought to be travel-related, with patients infected in places where the infection is circulating.

Unfortunately, one of those places is the Lower Rio Grande Valley, which joined Florida last year as the two U.S. regions with local Zika transmission. Last month, the Texas Department of State Health Services issued new recommendations for the Lower Rio Grande Valley counties of Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, Webb, Willacy and Zapata counties, thought to be at highest risk for local transmission of Zika. Cameron has had six locally transmitted cases to date.

The new recommendations call for all pregnant residents of those counties, along with anyone with a rash and at least one other common Zika symptom, to be tested. Those symptoms include fever, joint pain and eye redness. These new recommendations do not apply to Bexar County residents.

Dr. Jason Bowling, an infectious disease specialist at UT Health San Antonio and staff epidemiologist at University Health System, said that while there’s no evidence that mosquitoes in the San Antonio area are carrying the Zika virus yet, the types of mosquitoes that do spread Zika are found here.

“We know that Zika-carrying mosquitoes have been found in Brownsville, a four-hour drive from here,” Dr. Bowling said. “It is reasonable to be concerned that localized infection could spread here as well. People in San Antonio should take precautions to protect themselves and their families.”

Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott and Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, wrote to mayors and county judges across the state asking them to remain vigilant.

“With the ongoing risk posed by Zika, we are requesting your continued assistance in delaying locally transmitted Zika virus in Texas this year by promoting precautions to prevent mosquito bites and taking action to reduce mosquito breeding grounds in your communities,” they wrote.

Health officials say the best protection against Zika is to avoid getting bitten. Use an EPA-approved insect repellent when outdoors. Those containing DEET are proven effective and are safe for pregnant women.  Medicaid, CHIP and the Healthy Texas Women program will cover the cost of certain mosquito repellents for pregnant women, women ages 10-55, and males age 14 and up who are enrolled in Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and CHIP-Perinatal programs.

Wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants (you can spray repellants on your clothes, too) and remove standing water around your home where mosquitoes can breed.

More information can be found on University Health System’s Zika page.