Mosquito season is upon us, and Texas still isn’t out of the woods when it comes to Zika.
The mosquito-borne illness can cause birth defects if a woman is exposed to it while pregnant. Last year, there were 312 cases of Zika reported in the state.
Public health officials say they are more prepared this season and have a better picture of what to expect. Part of the problem, though, is that Zika didn’t really go anywhere.
Some locally transmitted cases continued to pop up near the border during the winter months. That means the disease lingered in the local mosquito population.
According to Dr. Peter Hotez, the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, historically warm weather last winter compounded the problem.
“We have probably not had a huge die-off of the Aedes aegypti mosquito in places like San Antonio or in Houston,” he said, referring to the type of mosquito linked to Zika.
The Aedes aegypti mosquito also happens to be prevalent in Texas, specifically in densely populated areas. Hotez said the combination of all of this is not good.
“I am quite worried that we're still quite vulnerable to Zika virus transmission,” he said.
State health officials said they're worried, too.
“Certainly it’s something we're on guard for" said Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services. "We've continued our planning, continued working with local health departments, with mosquito control, folks around the state to provide some additional funds for Zika control, Zika planning. And that’s certainly something we're going to continue working with throughout the summer.”
Van Deusen said officials are also drawing on lessons learned from last year’s Zika cases.
“One thing that we've done recently is further expanded our testing criteria, particularly in the valley,” he said. The agency now recommends testing for all pregnant women in Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, Webb, Willacy and Zapata counties in South Texas
Van Deusen and Hotez said the importance of actively testing humans for Zika was one of the bigger lessons learned.
“And second, we're not really getting a lot of help from the federal government,” Hotez said. “So, the state of Texas is kind of on our own.”
There have been 10 Zika cases reported in Texas so far this year. All of them have been related to travel.