It's officially summer, so that means the livin' is easy, right? Unfortunately, for residents in the lower half of the United States, they can't fully relax now that summer's here, because the threat of the Zika virus looms large. Texas has been on alert for the mosquito-borne illness since January. So, just when will Zika hit Texas? It's a valid question and concern not only for Texans, but for the Texas Department of State Health Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The bad news is that it's peak mosquito season in Texas, which actually starts as early as February because of the state's warmer temperatures. Mosquitos thrive in warmer temperatures and record-breaking temperatures across the Southwest and central United States this week certainly aren't helping. More bad news: The number of reported cases of Zika in Texas currently stands at 46 right now.
Now, before I freak you out with all this Zika doom and gloom, there actually is some good news for Texans. Of those 46 cases of Zika reported in Texas, 45 were actually contracted outside of the country. That 46th case involves a Dallas County resident who had sexual contact with someone who contracted Zika abroad.
Just because there have been no reported cases of locally-transmitted Zika virus, it doesn't mean Texas — or any state in the United States, really — is off the hook. At a state Senate health committee meeting in May, John Hellerstedt, Department of State Health Services Commissioner, said that local infections of Zika are "likely" in the state of Texas, according to CBS:
We do believe that Texas will, at some point, likely experience mosquito vector transmission. We don’t know when and we don’t really know at what level that will occur.
Yikes. Those aren't exactly comforting words — but Texans should know that the Department of State Health Services isn't messing around. The department has launched a comprehensive website — Zika in Texas — to keep the public updated with the latest numbers of reported cases and how people can protect themselves from contracting the disease. The website also includes an exceptionally detailed emergency response plan for the moment a case of local Zika transmission is reported.
It's not just Texas that needs to worry about the threat of locally-transmitted Zika, either: other Gulf states should prepare for local Zika cases, too. And, in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, local transmissions of Zika have been reported and are actually on the rise. And, I hate to even bring up politics — but even presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump's idea of a wall along the Mexican border won't stop the Aedes aegypti mosquito from getting into the country. The Zika-carrying species of mosquito is already here, and has been for the last two decades.
So, should you just stay in your house all summer? While there are plenty of ways to protect yourself from getting Zika, it's still a widespread public health concern across the United States, and it requires that everyone do their part not to contract or spread Zika in their communities, Texas or otherwise.