Don't Panic Now That Texas Reported the State's First Local Zika Transmission

It appears Texas has its first locally transmitted case of the Zika virus.

Monday afternoon, state health officials announced that a woman living in Cameron County in the Rio Grande Valley tested positive for the birth-defect causing virus. Unlike earlier diagnoses, she had not traveled to an area that's been hit with Zika nor having sexual contact with someone who'd traveled to an affected region.

“We knew it was only a matter of time before we saw a Zika case spread by a mosquito in Texas,” Dr. John Hellerstedt, Texas Department of State Health Services commissioner, said in a statement Monday. “We still don’t believe the virus will become widespread in Texas, but there could be more cases, so people need to protect themselves from mosquito bites, especially in parts of the state that stay relatively warm in the fall and winter.”

The woman infected with Zika in Cameron County is no longer capable of transmitting the virus to mosquitoes, stemming the chances of a Rio Grande Valley Zika outbreak. At least for now: Dallas, which has been hit with 41 local cases of foreign infection of Zika so far, is in the next risk group after places like the Rio Grande Valley and cities like Houston, according to Zika researcher and University of Texas professor Sahotra Sarkar.

While Dallas County Health and Human Services director Zach Thompson has called local Zika transmission a matter of "when and not if." Still, the spread of the disease is not guaranteed.

Sarkar told the Dallas Observer this summer that the risk of a Dallas Zika cycle was not as a high as it is in South Texas, because of the type of mosquito that's been found to transmit Zika. Because the Aedes aegypti mosquito becomes less prevalent the farther north one goes, "it does mean that by the time you get to North Texas, the chances of Zika establishing local cycles goes down," Sarkar said. "It goes down for the rest of the country."

As a result of the infection in Cameron County, Texas Health and Human Services announced Monday that it is restarting a program that allows Texas women on Medicaid who are pregnant or between the ages of 10 and 45 to get two free cans of approved mosquito repellent per month.

"We will do all that we can to protect Texans and slow the spread of the Zika virus," HHSC Executive Commissioner Charles Smith said. "Insect repellent is the best way to protect yourself, and we want it to be widely available."