State health agency preparing for large-scale Zika virus outbreak

Residents can fight virus in their homes

SAN ANTONIO – Should San Antonians worry about the Zika virus?

Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt said Wednesday he doesn't know how bad the virus could spread locally.

There are 36 cases statewide, and with more people traveling to Zika-infected areas in Central America, Hellerstedt said a certain percentage of people will end up getting infected.

But Hellerstedt said if that happens, it raises a new question.

"The thing we are really looking out for and planning for would be whether or not one of those people would actually give that infection to a mosquito in Texas," Hellerstedt said. "And therefore spread the Zika virus in Texas."

Hellerstedt said the state health agency is monitoring the virus locally and is preparing for a large-scale outbreak.

"We're trying to avoid the worst, but we are also planning for a serious outbreak," said Hellerstedt. "We have various contingencies that we are going through."

Hellerstedt said "fogging" only works when combatting the West Nile virus. He said the species that carries Zika tend to live right around homes. So, getting to those areas by spraying is not that effective.

"The thing to realize is the mosquito that carries Zika doesn't travel very far at all in its lifetime," Hellerstedt said. "So, if you can protect just around your own home, around your residence, you've made a tremendous impact. And, as simple as it sounds, it's an extremely effective weapon against Zika."

Hellerstedt said residents can fight Zika by draining any standing water around their homes and creating barriers by wearing long clothing, mosquito repellant or by using netting or screens.

There are six confirmed cases of the virus and 19 cases under investigation in Bexar County.

For more information on the Zika virus, click here.

About the Author:

Stephanie Serna is a weekday anchor on Good Morning San Antonio and GMSA at 9 a.m. She joined the KSAT 12 News team in November 2009 as a general assignments reporter.