North Texas Keeps Close Eye on Florida Zika Situation

Health officials and experts in North Texas are working on their plans to fight the Zika virus as the illness takes a new turn in Florida.

On Friday, Florida health leaders said that four cases of Zika were likely spread by mosquito; the first cases in the United States not linked to international travel.

Additionally, blood banks in Miami-Dade and Broward counties were asked by the Food and Drug Administration to suspend collections until donations can be screened for the virus.

Locally, officials at Carter BloodCare said they have been monitoring the virus for some time and are watching the current situation closely as their governing body decides how it will effect operations.

“Independent community blood centers have been talking about this for many months,” said Carter Public Information Officer Linda Goelzer.

For now the effects will just be on the screening side there.

Goelzer said they’ve been asking donors for some time to list areas they’ve traveled to outside of the country and that, now, folks giving blood will likely be asked about travel to the effected counties in Florida, as well.

She said the experimental test for Zika in blood is an option for the area, as well, and will be brought into the situation as needed, though it’s not something used regularly at this point.

It is still being determined if any other new directives will come forward.

Goelzer stressed though, at this point, they are still taking donations in North Texas, and, in fact, they encourage people to come and donate to the cause.

“We have contingency plans in place,” she said. "We are going to have blood for the area if needed, and this is just one of those times we just remind donors that you cannot ever anticipate what will happen.”

Carter BloodCare officials say they’re screening potential blood donors more carefully after the news that at least four people were likely infected with the Zika virus by mosquitoes in the U.S.

Juan Rodriguez, with the Denton County Health Department, said Friday that they did expect to see the illness transmitted by mosquitoes eventually and that now he and other epidemiologists will be watching closely how it pans out and what works and does not work in the response.

Because there seems to be a general feeling among experts that it’s not a matter of if it shows up in North Texas mosquitoes, but when.

"If you're traveling to those endemic countries, which you should not, where there is a Zika outbreak, make sure you protect yourself," said Zachary Thompson, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services. "When you arrive back in the United States, in Dallas County, make sure that you check in with your primary physician."

Dr. James Kennedy, a biologist and mosquito expert at the University of North Texas, said he believes the further spread into the state is inevitable and expects it will first be seen in the Houston area or other warmer, southern parts of Texas.

"I mean, it's another avenue of entry into Texas," said Kennedy.

He said state health leaders, with whom he works closely on Denton's West Nile virus testing, are already testing samples of mosquitoes state-wide for Zika as well.

He hopes Florida's situation will in fact serve as a learning experience here.

"It's kind of like West Nile virus when it first came across the country. We really didn't know what was happening, and we learned, and I think the same thing with the Zika virus,” he said.

Experts encourage everyone to continue practicing mosquito prevention to protect from the illness spreading.

Kennedy adds one more step in the case of Zika though. He said that the mosquitoes that carry Zika are not only daytime biters, but they also are known to lay eggs just outside of pooled water, so he recommends that after draining standing water people also check the edges of the container and clean out any mosquito eggs that may have been outside of the pool.

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