SAN ANTONIO – Local officials said they are collaborating on a response plan should the Zika virus come to San Antonio, but residents need to do their part.
There have been four cases of the mosquito-borne disease in San Antonio, though officials said all of the cases were contracted abroad.
Gathered on the steps of City Hall Monday morning, officials from Bexar County and the city of San Antonio laid out what they were doing to prepare should the disease start spreading in Bexar County. Many of their efforts involve public awareness and preparation.
“As you know, at this time we’ve had four individuals test positive for the Zika virus, but all four of them contracted Zika while traveling abroad,” Mayor Ivy Taylor said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there's no vaccine or medicine to prevent or treat Zika. Most people with Zika don't get sick enough to go to the hospital and rarely die from it.
Becoming infected while pregnant, however, can cause babies to be born with a birth defect called microcephaly, in which a child has a smaller head than expected.
The Zika virus is spread through the Aedes mosquito, which also spreads the West Nile virus and dengue fever. Symptoms of Zika include fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (red eyes). Symptoms typically begin between two and seven days after a bite by an infected mosquito.
The city and county said they're making efforts to control mosquito populations, but they need help taking care of standing water. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said residents should get rid of standing water around their homes in places like dog bowls or birdbaths and treat larger bodies of standing water to kill mosquitoes.
“We want to make sure that San Antonio residents dump any standing water near their homes at least once a week. Treat standing water that can’t be dumped with purification tablets,” Wolff said.
Beyond preventing mosquitoes, officials want help with preventing transmission. Recommendations include wearing long sleeves and pants, wearing bug spray and protecting yourself if you travel to affected areas. Zika has spread to South and Central America, the Caribbean and South Asia.
Men who have recently been to areas with active Zika cases should wear condoms or practice abstinence.
"It stays in the blood from five days to a week, but it could stay in semen much longer," said Dr. Vincent Nathan, interim director of the Metropolitan Health District. "Actually, the CDC and World Health Organization are looking into that now. That is a new phenomenon we are just learning about this disease."
Officials also want residents to help their neighbors by donating blood. The South Texas Blood and Tissue Center is worried about a Zika-related blood shortage this summer.
Getting donations during the summer is difficult anyway, said Chief Operating Officer Elizabeth Waltman, but donor restrictions meant to protect the blood supply could make it even harder to maintain their stock. So Waltman and other officials are asking donors to give blood now.
Come July 1, Waltman said, the center will be able to test for the virus.
"So once we're able to test, we'll essentially make sure there's no Zika in the blood supply," she said.