HOUSTON – A baby born in a Harris County hospital has become the first infant to die from Zika in the U.S. and the first Zika-related death in Texas.
The Harris County Public Health Department confirms it received a positive Zika test result on the infant who was born with birth defects, including microcephaly.
The mother had traveled to El Salvador during her pregnancy where it is suspected she became infected. Doctors say she didn't know she had contracted Zika. She gave birth a few weeks ago.
“The saddest outcome of Zika’s health effects often impact the most vulnerable. We are devastated to report our first case of Zika-associated death and our hearts go out to the family,” stated Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, Executive Director of HCPH. “While this is a travel-associated case, we know that prevention is key to reducing the risk of Zika virus infection."
Zika-related brain damage in fetuses "is one of the saddest congenital birth outcomes imaginable," said Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. "The case highlights that ZIka is not just producing babies with small heads... We should expect many similar deaths, and also stillbirths."
Shah said there are 28 travel-associated cases of Zika in Harris County and 99 in the state.
He said the county is stepping up outreach into the most vulnerable neighborhoods, along with surveillance and trapping.
"We've brought in new traps, more traps to not just step up the efforts that we do around mosquitoes but specifically the Aedes mosquito," Shah said.
They're also learning from other cities, like Miami, already dealing with local transmission of the virus.
"Clearly everything that they're doing in Florida would be replicated here," Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said.
He said step one will be to immediately set up an incident command center, like they do during hurricanes or major storms, then get the state and feds involved.
"It is all lined up. Everybody knows what our jobs are if and when an outbreak of Zika ever occurs," Emmett said.
HCPH continues to encourage residents to take precautions to prevent Zika infection.
When outdoors, prevent mosquito bites by using an EPA-registered insect repellent that contains one of the following: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Follow product instructions.
Over the weekend, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott detailed measures the state has taken for funding to prevent the spreading of Zika, but said it is prepared to fight the virus should it become prevalent in the Lone Star State.
“I directed the Texas Department of Health Services to work closely with our local partners as well as with our partners at the Center for Disease Control to prevent a Zika outbreak here in Texas as well as to prepare the strongest possible Zika response plan.
“We have assembled millions in state and federal funds to help attack the problem.”
According to a report from USA Today, the CDC says 15 babies in the U.S. have been born with Zika-related birth defects.
Seven women have lost pregnancies due to Zika. Those numbers could grow. Nearly 1,000 pregnant women in the continental U.S. and territories have been infected with Zika.
More than 7,300 Americans have been diagnosed with Zika, including 1,825 in the continental U.S. and Hawaii, according to the CDC.
Zika virus is spread primarily through the bite of the Aedes species mosquito.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms of Zika are usually mild and include fever, rash, conjunctivitis (red eyes), and joint-pain, lasting several days to a week. Zika can also be transmitted sexually.
CDC has confirmed Zika is linked to birth defects.
Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon and death is rare. There is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat Zika virus infection.