State Calls for More Zika Testing in South Texas

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) has expanded its Zika testing criteria for residents of the Lower Rio Grande Valley in an effort to quickly identify and respond to new infections of the mosquito-borne virus.

In a health alert issued April 3, DSHS recommended testing for all residents of Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, Webb, Willacy, and Zapata counties who have a rash plus at least one other common Zika symptom: fever, joint pain, or conjunctivitis. DSHS continues to recommend that all pregnant women in those counties be tested during the first and second trimester. 

For all other parts of the state, DSHS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines recommend testing for any pregnant woman at possible risk of Zika exposure or for anyone who exhibits three of the four common Zika symptoms and has traveled to an affected area.

More infections are possible this year because of a mild winter that prevented a break in the mosquito season throughout the southernmost areas of the Rio Grande Valley, state health officials said.

"Zika remains a significant health risk to pregnant women and their babies, and it's only a matter of time until we see local transmission here again," DSHS Commissioner John Hellerstedt, MD, said in a news release that accompanied the alert. "We want to cast as wide a net as possible with testing to increase our ability to find and respond to cases, and the Lower Rio Grande Valley remains the part of the state most at risk for Zika transmission."

To ensure that all cases are identified, DSHS said, the ability to pay should not stop people from getting tested, particularly pregnant women.

"Testing is available through public health labs for individuals who have no payor source or for whom there is a financial barrier to testing," DSHS said. "If the individual is not covered by private insurance or a third-party payor, testing may be obtained through a DSHS laboratory."

For more information about Zika and other infectious diseases in Texas, see the TMA website.

Action, April 17, 2017