The Zika virus appears to have spread north into United States territory. Texas health officials announced Monday that they had identified the first report of infection from a local mosquito in the state.
As reported by CBS News, a Brownsville, Texas, woman living near the Mexican border said she had not traveled south to Mexico or elsewhere before becoming infected with the virus.
Only in Florida had local transmission from mosquitoes previously been reported in the United States.
The virus has garnered international attention after scientists noticed a connection between the infection and a sudden increase in incidences of children both with microcephaly, or a small brain and head. The infected Texas woman is not pregnant. The virus poses little harm to adults, causing only mild flu-like symptoms, if any, in most people.
Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, said that the news was no surprise, as reported by Reuters.
“We knew it was only a matter of time before we saw a Zika case spread by a mosquito in Texas,” he said. “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.”
According to CBS Local, the Texas Health And Human Services Commission is reinstating Medicare coverage of mosquito repellant as a result of the new case.
“We will do all that we can to protect Texans and slow the spread of the Zika virus. Insect repellent is the best way to protect yourself, and we want it to be widely available,” Health and Human Services Commission Executive Commissioner Charles Smith said.
Texas women between 10 and 45 can obtain two cans of mosquito repellant per month at participating pharmacies. The program covers women under Medicaid, CHIP, CHIP-Perinate, and the Healthy Texas Women And Children With Special Needs healthcare programs.
Texas has had 257 confirmed cases of Zika. Up to now, all cases had been associated with travel or contact with someone who had traveled. A baby in Texas was born, and later died, from complications caused by microencephaly linked to the Zika virus in August. The mother had travelled to Latin America during her pregnancy, officials stressed, and was infected there.
The Center for Disease Control said there have been 15 cases of Zika-related birth defects and six infant deaths nationally. There have been 1,114 confirmed cases of Zika in pregnant American women so far; 182 of 4,444 confirmed cases of Zika in America were not linked to travel of any kind and were limited to local transmissions, which up to this point were exclusively in Florida.
Earlier this year, Texas officials confirmed a case of chikungunya, an illness transmitted by the same kind of mosquito that carries the Zika virus.
Brownsville mayor Tony Martinez said that people have no reason to be alarmed, reported the New York Times.
“I don’t think it’s something that people need to be alarmed about, but by the same token, they need to be cautious about it and report anything that needs to be reported to our health department,” he said. “On the coast we kind of hoped that it wouldn’t happen, but the likelihood of it was pretty high.”
Dr. Peter J. Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College, agreed.
“I predicted last April that we would see cases along the Texas Gulf Coast this summer,” Hotez said. “This is now the one case we know about, but we don’t know if there are dozens or hundreds. Because of the lack of funding by congress, there has been no active surveillance along the gulf coast.”
[Featured Image by Mario Tama/Getty Images]