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Public Health Officials Outline Zika Testing Guidance

Note: This news release was updated on Dec. 15 to clarify that the new testing guidance applies only to pregnant women.

News Release
Dec. 14, 2016

As state and local health departments investigate five locally transmitted cases of Zika virus disease in a small area of Brownsville, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued updated guidance for pregnant women living in and traveling to Brownsville.

While the risk of exposure in Brownsville is thought to be low, in accordance with the CDC guidance, the Texas Department of State Health Services recommends all pregnant Brownsville residents and pregnant women who travel there on or after Oct. 29 be tested for Zika. Residents and frequent travelers, who visit Brownsville on a daily or weekly basis, should get routine Zika testing once during the first trimester of their pregnancy and once during the second trimester. Pregnant women with limited travel should discuss it with their doctor and be tested based on when the travel occurred. Because of the risk of sexual transmission, the same recommendations apply to pregnant women who have sex without a condom with a partner who is a Brownsville resident or traveler.

Health care providers can find more detailed testing guidance in the CDC health alert. DSHS is also emphasizing its previous guidance to test pregnant women who have Zika symptoms or who travel to Mexico or other areas where mosquitoes are spreading Zika.

“Right now, we’re aware that local transmission has occurred in a small area of Brownsville,” said Dr. John Hellerstedt, DSHS commissioner. “However, we want to cast a wide net with testing to develop a clearer picture of what is happening with Zika in the area and provide pregnant women with more information about their health.”

Health officials continue to recommend pregnant women avoid travel across the border to Mexico, given the ongoing local transmission of Zika there. DSHS also continues to urge everyone strictly follow personal precautions against Zika, including the use of mosquito repellent and wearing long sleeves and pants. DSHS particularly urges the use of these precautions in higher risk areas along the border and during any travel to areas with active Zika transmission.

Zika virus is transmitted to people primarily through the bite of an infected mosquito, though it can also spread by sexual contact. The four most common symptoms are fever, itchy rash, joint pain and eye redness. While symptoms are usually minor, Zika can also cause severe birth defects, including microcephaly, and other poor birth outcomes in some women infected during pregnancy. More guidance for clinicians, recommendations for the public and updated case counts are available at TexasZika.org.

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(News Media Contact: Chris Van Deusen, DSHS Director of Media Relations, 512-776-7753)

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Last updated December 15, 2016