With outdoor activities on the holiday calendar for millions of Texans next week, the Texas Department of State Health Services is reminding everyone to protect themselves from mosquito bites and the diseases they can bring.
The best thing people can do to protect themselves and their families from mosquito-borne diseases like West Nile and Zika is to use insect repellent every time they’re outside. Plus, recent rains across the state mean it’s an important time to dump out standing water around homes and businesses so mosquitoes can’t lay eggs.
Several types of mosquitoes that can transmit disease thrive in Texas. Zika remains a serious threat because it can cause birth defects if women are infected during pregnancy, and West Nile can sicken hundreds of people a year in Texas, resulting in more than 3,500 illnesses and 167 deaths over the last 10 years.
Routine mosquito surveillance has detected West Nile activity this year in the Houston, Dallas/Fort Worth, El Paso and Beaumont areas. The state has reported three Zika cases, all acquired while Texas residents were visiting other countries where Zika is being spread.
Some simple steps at home and while traveling will help people protect themselves and their communities from illnesses transmitted by mosquitoes:
- Regularly apply EPA-registered insect repellent while outdoors.
- Dump out all standing water inside and outside homes and businesses; scrub outdoor containers to dislodge mosquito eggs.
- Use air conditioning or make sure window and door screens are in good repair.
- Cover up with long sleeves and long pants to help prevent bites.
“These seem like small actions, but they make a huge difference in keeping people from getting sick or even dying from mosquito-borne diseases,” said DSHS Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt. “If individual Texans will take these steps, they will limit the spread of West Nile and prevent Zika from becoming established here.”
People should see their health care provider for possible testing if they experience symptoms of West Nile or Zika. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, an itchy rash, joint pain and eye redness. West Nile virus can cause headache, fever, muscle and joint aches, nausea and fatigue. A more serious form of West Nile disease, in which the virus invades the nervous system, can cause neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness and paralysis.
DSHS has launched a revamped TexasZika.org website with easier-to-access information on Zika cases and precautions, printable prevention materials, and diagnosis and testing guidance for health care providers. Information about West Nile virus is available at TxWestNile.org.