HARLINGEN, Texas -- As summer approaches, so does mosquito season and with the Zika virus still spreading, health officials are urging everyone to not only take preventive measures, but to get tested as well. One of the hardest hit areas with the Zika virus is South Texas.
Valeria Gonzalez is 28 weeks into her pregnancy and visiting her doctor for a checkup. She shows us the items local health officials are giving out free to prevent mosquito bites, including mosquito repellent and even condoms.
“I don’t think that anybody wants for something to happen to their baby while they’re in charge,” she said.
Taking charge, she’s listening to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s strong recommendation for women in South Texas to get screened for the Zika virus.
“It was a negative,” she said.
The test taken in each of the first two trimesters collects blood and urine samples. But the recommendation goes even further.
“If you’re planning a pregnancy, whether you’re a male or female, and you have not had any symptoms for Zika, you still should be tested,” said Yvette Ortega, Gonzalez’s family nurse.
Researchers have found that Zika, while active in a person’s system, can be transmitted during sex and the consequences for pregnant women infected by the virus can be devastating.
“These kids tend to have some mental retardation, tend to have vision issues that damages the eyes, hearing, limb abnormalities are seen with this,” said Dr. John Visintine, Driscoll Children Hospital’s maternal fetal medicine specialist.
Dr. Visintine has been monitoring two infected patients and babies with congenital Zika virus syndrome in this corner of the country.
“As we’re screening more, we’re finding more positives, unfortunately,” he said.
Only about 10 percent of all babies in the U.S. born from a Zika-infected mother show complications, said Dr. Visintine, but that could change as children grow older.
“It’s a hard thing to be confronted with, that your baby may have some significant birth defect, and not knowing is difficult for them,” he said.
Local health officials are doing what they can while a vaccine is still in the works. For now, the only thing they want spreading is information.
“I feel grateful because, I mean, if they didn’t know, or if they didn’t take the steps into letting us know, how would we take care of ourselves?” Gonzalez asked.
Health officials warn that many patients don't show symptoms of the Zika virus until weeks later. Therefore, you should not wait to get tested, and if you plan to head south for the summer, you should come prepared to prevent mosquito bites as well.