El Paso getting education on preventing Zika


The current rainy, windy and hot weather makes ideal conditions for mosquitoes to breed. And with the Zika virus spreading into the Americas, El Paso is beginning to take preventative measures.

The problem with Zika is that it poses a threat to unborn babies. In May of 2015, Brazil saw a link between pregnant women who had been infected with Zika virus and a birth defect in their babies known as microcephaly.

“Also, it can effect the general population with an autoimmune disease that is called Guillan-Barre syndrome, so it has a different connotation and a different behavior from other viruses,” says Fernando Gonzalez of the El Paso Public Health Department.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that information on the link between Zika and Guillan-Barre Syndrome is limited and continues to be researched.

People who are infected with the Zika virus are more likely to experience mild symptoms including fever, rash, joint pain, and headaches, which are expected to last up to a week.

Although cases of Zika have yet to been reported in El Paso, health officials say spreading awareness and informing residents of necessary precautions, is key.

Doug Watts, co-director of UTEP’s Border Biomedical Research Center said the center is working to train vector control and surveillance staff, all while informing residents as well.

Watts said that Aedes ageypti is the second most abundant mosquito species in El Paso, meaning that the arrival of Zika is inevitable.

“We found that this particular mosquito species, Aedes ageypti, the vector transmitter of Zika virus, can be found in just about everybody’s backyard in El Paso.”

Now, the center is focused on reaching out to the community with information on how to stay safe.

Zika“We have recently started an outreach program targeting elementary students about mosquito biology and how to control and prevent mosquito transmitted viral diseases in the community,” Watts said.

El Pasoans can reduce mosquito breeding and biting by using mosquito repellent, eliminating standing water indoors and outdoors, and avoiding travel to infected areas.

As of June 22, the CDC had reported 819 cases of Zika in the United States, all of which are travel-associated.

As these numbers continue to increase, the CDC advises people, especially pregnant women, to avoid traveling to infected areas.

The Zika virus can also be sexually transmitted, “so this poses another challenge for people traveling to countries where Zika transmission is active, coming back and infecting their partners,” Gonzalez said.

Because El Paso is a border city, as the virus continues to spread northward from Southern Mexico, it is never to early to begin taking precautions and spreading awareness.

If you’re interested in a presentation from UTEP’s Border Biomedical Research Center, contact Watt’s team at mosquitoes@utep.edu. Further information for travelers and expecting mothers along with tips on prevention are available on the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention website.

This story was produced during the summer 2016 UTEP Broadcast Journalism Workshop  for the TV-style news magazine Borderzine Presents: Hidden El Paso. The program explored an eclectic mix of El Paso’s hidden hazards and unexpected gems.

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