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No big changes to mosquito protocol, says city

Thursday, March 10, 2016 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

Despite two confirmed cases of the mosquito-borne virus Zika in Travis County, the city of Austin says it will not make any big changes to its mosquito-control strategy as the warm season begins – a time ripe for insect breeding.

“We have not had any reason to believe that there’s any infected mosquitoes in the area with this virus,” said Sabrina Vidaurri, a health officer supervisor with the city. “The only people who have become ill with it were travel-acquired. They were not locally acquired through a mosquito population.”

In a presentation to Council’s Health and Human Services Committee Wednesday, Dr. Philip Huang with the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department explained that the two people who have tested positive for the virus in Travis County had both recently traveled to Colombia. The department will continue with its regularly scheduled mosquito trapping – lasting from March to October.

“We’ve had some local cases that have been travel-related,” Huang told members of the Council committee. “But we know as the weather heats up and we get more mosquitoes, we sort of have this window of opportunity to do everything that we can to prevent the mosquito population from growing and to try to reduce that population as much as we can.”

The city will trap and test mosquitoes as it normally does during these warm months. It sends trapped mosquitoes to a state lab to be tested. Currently, the state tests for any viruses, and then if a mosquito is flagged, the state tests for specific viruses – but not for Zika. For now, the Texas Department of State Health Services is not changing its protocols to test for Zika.

“That could change if the situation ultimately warranted it down the road and there was value in that,” a spokesperson for the department wrote in an email. “Our resources/energies are centered on human cases – a much more reliable/significant way to measure Zika risk in Texas.”

The city said it will continue to focus on “source reduction” – or eliminating swarms of mosquitoes as they crop up, usually near standing water. And, this focus is probably best since the specific type of mosquito that can carry Zika breeds near homes – particularly in small spaces around homes.

“Flower pots or containers, birdbaths,” said Vidaurri. “If you have any water dripping out of your air conditioner condensation line, that’s a small amount of water that sometimes collects there and they can breed in.”

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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