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Texas health officials urge Zika testing for pregnant women, others in Rio Grande Valley

PHOTO: Mosquito feeding on a human host, Photo Date: January 23, 2016. (Cropped Photo: Day Donaldson / CC BY 2.0)

A health alert on Friday for pregnant women in Texas. Zika testing is now recommended as part of routine care for pregnant women in the Rio Grande Valley. Six counties are impacted: Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, Webb, Willacy and Zapata.

Mosquito season typically starts in May. But experts say our warm winter could push that up and mosquito season could be here in a week.

"We're starting to see some increase," said Dr. John Hellerstedt.

The Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services says a warm winter and an early start to mosquito season are two reasons some pregnant women in Texas are being asked to get at least two tests for the Zika virus.

"We really want to motivate pregnant women and the doctors to start testing a lot more than they have in the past," said Dr. Hellerstedt.

Starting on Friday, Zika testing is recommended as part of routine prenatal care for women living in the Rio Grande Valley.

Tests are recommended at the first prenatal care visit and again in the second trimester in six south Texas counties. In addition, if symptoms present themselves in any stage of pregnancy tests or retests should be performed.

"We do know that those areas had risk last season. We expect that risk to reemerge with the mosquito season now," said Dr. Hellerstedt.

Mosquito testing is already underway to keep track of the mosquito population. It's too early to know if additional Zika testing will be recommended in other parts of the state.

"Whether it gets to be a little bit bigger or a lot bigger after that there really is no way to predict," said Dr. Hellerstedt.

Texas had six cases of local mosquito transmission of Zika in Brownsville in November and December 2016. That's why south Texas is considered the most likely place for the virus to spread in 2017. Wearing mosquito repellent every time you go out is the best way to slow the spread of Zika.

For more information on Zika symptoms and where to get tested, visit texaszika.org

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