State officials on Monday confirmed the first case of the Zika virus that was probably spread by a mosquito in Texas.
Texas is the second state in the country to report local transmission of the Zika virus after Florida, which reported its first such case over the summer. The virus has spread throughout Mexico and Central and South America.
Lab tests confirmed late last week that a woman in Cameron County in the Rio Grande Valley had been infected with Zika, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. The woman, who is not pregnant, told officials she had not traveled to Mexico or any other areas where Zika is present.
“We knew it was only a matter of time before we saw a Zika case spread by a mosquito in Texas,” John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the state health department, said in a statement. “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.”
Most people infected with Zika don’t fall ill. The biggest risk of the virus is to pregnant women because it can cause microcephaly, a birth defect characterized by stunted brain development, in developing fetuses.
Monday’s announcement prompted the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to reinstate a benefit through December for women on Medicaid and other subsidized health plans to receive two cans of mosquito repellent per month. Women who are between the ages of 10 and 45 or are pregnant are eligible to pick up the repellent at local pharmacies.
State officials had initially instituted the benefit through October.
A baby born in the Houston area died in July after her mother was infected with Zika in El Salvador. The baby had microcephaly.
Through last week, 257 people in Texas had been confirmed as being infected with the Zika virus. Until the Rio Grande Valley case, all cases were associated with travel, including two infants born to women who had traveled during their pregnancy and two people who had sexual contact with infected travelers.
Eleven of those cases were in Travis County, five in Williamson County and one in Bastrop County.
Philip Huang, medical director of the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department, said that mosquito testing is winding down in Austin and that his department is waiting to hear whether the state will continue to test mosquitoes. He said that although Central Texas has been experiencing what seems like unseasonably warm weather, the region is less susceptible than South Texas to local transmission of Zika.
“The climate is warmer down there. There’s perhaps more activity back and forth across some of the areas that have active transmission,” Huang said. “We still certainly have people traveling to those areas, and we certainly have those same risks but probably less likely.”
The state has dedicated $6 million in state and federal funding to prevent and combat Zika. Officials have launched a public education campaign, encouraging Texans to lower the risk of infection by staying indoors, using insect repellent with DEET or picaridin and eliminating standing water.
State and Cameron County officials have assessed the home of the woman who was infected and trapped and tested mosquitoes in the area. There is no indication that another person has been infected, and state officials have lab results that show the woman can’t spread the virus through mosquitoes. They are investigating how and where the infection occurred.
State and county officials plan to contact the woman’s neighbors about protecting themselves from mosquitoes as well as to ask for voluntary urine samples to test for Zika. They did not identify the woman or say where in Cameron County she lives.
The Zika virus — transmitted mainly through the bite of a mosquito, sexual activity or maternal-fetal contact — typically doesn’t cause death. Symptoms are usually mild, such as rash, fever, joint pain and red eye.
A vaccine or treatment for Zika virus infection isn’t currently available.