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Federal health officials issue Zika warning for Brownsville

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging pregnant women to avoid Brownsville if they can and for those visiting the area to be tested for the virus, which is known to cause birth defects.

Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus

Pregnant women should avoid the Brownsville area if they can and guard against mosquito bites if they can't, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday, citing an increased risk of contracting the Zika virus there.

There are only five known cases of the mosquito-borne virus — known to cause birth defects — in the Brownsville area, the agency said, and “there is not yet any evidence of widespread, sustained local spread of Zika.” But CDC officials said they’re urging vigilance as Texas' climate is “conducive to mosquito-borne spread, and the risk of continued local spread cannot be ruled out.”

CDC Director Tom Frieden said the agency is working closely with the Texas Department of State Health Services, the Cameron County Health Department and Brownsville Health Department to look at new information every day.

“We conclude that pregnant women should avoid the Brownsville area – and make every effort to prevent mosquito bites if they live or work there,” said Frieden. “Together with Texas officials, we are working to protect pregnant women from the potentially devastating effects of this virus.”

The Lone State State has confirmed more than 250 cases of Zika, many stemming from travels. The first Zika death occurred in August when a baby girl died in Harris County. The child was born with microcephaly, a condition that causes babies to be born with smaller brains and skulls, among other medical issues.

DSHS Commissioner John Hellerstedt said in a news release that the agency is aware of the local cases. The state agency is aligning with CDC recommendations that all pregnant women who live in Brownsville or traveled there on or after Oct. 29 be tested for Zika. They’re also recommending testing for people who live in or visit Brownsville on a daily or weekly basis. Zika symptoms often go unnoticed with common symptoms including fever, itchy rash, joint pain and eye redness.

“Right now, we’re aware that local transmission has occurred in a small area of Brownsville,” Hellerstedt said. “However, we want to cast a wide net with testing to develop a clearer picture of what is happening with Zika in the area and provide pregnant women with more information about their health.”

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Texas saw its first locally transmitted case of the Zika virus in November, as a woman in Cameron County who tested positive for the virus apparently contracted it from a mosquito bite.
  • Here's our explainer about the Zika virus in Texas from October.
  • A baby girl's death in Harris County from complications related to the Zika virus marked the first fatality linked to the virus in Texas.

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