EDINBURG - The first case of Zika in Hidalgo County has been confirmed. Hidalgo County Health and Human Services Chief Administrative Officer Eduardo Olivarez held a press conference to speak about it and the county’s continued efforts to fight the disease.
Due federal and state laws, the Olivarez could not share the patient’s name, age or location. But, he did say the patient was male, a resident from the southern part of the county, and no longer infectious. As the male had not traveled out of the area recently, officials determined the infection was most likely from a mosquito bite in South Texas earlier this year.
Like 80 percent of those that are infected, the male showed no symptoms, and was only test by his pregnant partner’s physician as a precaution since the disease can be spread through sexual contact. The patient’s IgM test for Zika antibodies came back positive and was confirmed by CDC and state officials. They believe the male was infected two to three months ago as the antibodies can remain in the blood for that long.
Since a person is infectious for up to 14 days before the body’s immune system fights off the disease, the patient was declared as not currently infected. However, it’s important to note that the virus can remain in some fluids longer than blood, so a person can have a negative test result but still carry Zika in their genital secretions. In rare cases, the virus can survive in semen and vaginal fluid for up to six months. Because of this, the CDC recommends that people use condoms every time during pregnancy or choose to abstain from sexual activity.
Olivarez praised the physician and others who are taking a proactive approach to fighting the disease.
“We have some very forward-thinking physicians in our community … who said ‘you know, we are going to start asking the partners of these mothers to get tested.’ So, this is how we resulted in finding this test,” Olivarez said.
In April of this year, Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt issued a recommendation that Zika testing to be part of routine prenatal care for women in Hidalgo, Cameron, Willacy, Zapata, Starr and Webb counties. Since then, over 6,000 Zika tests have been performed, but this is the first case with a confirmed positive result from a mosquito in Texas this year.
“The inevitability of our first Zika case has been here for a long time. And I’ve been talking about it for a long time. So, this should not be a surprise to anyone,” said Olivarez.
The border remains a highly susceptible area for transmission of the virus, with cases found on both sides. In November 2016, two confirmed cases of locally-borne Zika were found in Cameron County after the state issued high alerts for residents and travelers to the area. As of today’s press conference, there have been three travel cases of Zika in Hidalgo County. But, county officials have not had any reported microcephaly cases or trapped any mosquitoes that have tested positive for Zika in their ongoing research and prevention efforts.
Olivarez says that the county is doing everything they can to combat the spread of Zika, but residents need to do their part.
“How to avoid it? There’s four principal areas. The most important and the most productive is education and source reduction,” Olivarez said. “The more you remove locations where eggs can be laid, the less chance of you having a mosquito-borne illness.”
The county is continuing to partner with local agencies and nonprofits for outreach and education. Pregnant women are able to get a Zika kit with preventative items like insect repellant, condoms and larvicide tablets. Olivarez also encouraged residents to wear protective clothing and keep their yards clear of tall grass and standing water.
When asked if pregnant women should have their partners tested as part of their prenatal care, Olivarez couldn’t give a definitive answer.
“I’m not a physician. I cannot make that recommendation. So, it’s between the physician and the patient and the family,” Olivarez said.
He did say, however, that any person displaying symptoms – itchy rash, fever, joint pain, or eye redness - should seek medical attention immediately.
For more information about Zika, you can visit www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html.