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Saturday , November 17 2018
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Tag Archives: zika

El Paso DPH Observes National Mosquito Control Awareness Week

In observance of National Mosquito Control Awareness Week, the Public Health and Environmental Services Departments are teaming up with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prevent mosquito bites, and mosquito-borne diseases such as West Nile Virus, Chikungunya, Dengue, and Zika.

Mayor Dee Margo and City Council will proclaim Wednesday, June 27, 2018 “Zika Action Day” at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

In addition, health educators from the DPH will be visiting with parents and children in the Socorro area to teach the importance of preventing these diseases. Zika virus spreads through the bite of an infected mosquito, sexual intercourse, blood transfusion, and from a mother to her fetus. As a part of these presentations, the DPH will be providing women of childbearing age a kit, which includes repellent, condoms, and educational materials.

Residents can take part by following the Public Health Department on Facebook and Twitter to help spread the word. Sharing our daily posts could help save a life.

Mosquito Control Awareness Week began June 24 and runs through June 30, 2018. For more information on the Public Health Department, call 2-1-1 or visit their English-language webpage or the Spanish-language page.

The El Paso Department of Public Health is asking residents to help ‘fight the bite’ by reducing the spread of mosquito borne diseases using these prevention methods:

  • DEET – Use insect repellents that contain DEET when outdoors
  • DRESS – Wear long sleeves, long pants, and socks when outdoors
  • DUSK and DAWN – Although mosquitoes associated with Zika can be active throughout the day, residents should take extra care during peak mosquito biting hours (from dusk to dawn) or consider avoiding outdoor activities during these times.
  • DRAIN – Drain standing water from flowerpots, gutters, buckets, pool covers, pet water dishes, and birdbaths.

Mosquitoes Trapped in El Paso Test Positive for West Nile Virus

The City of El Paso Department of Public Health has been notified that one of several mosquito pools collected here have tested positive for West Nile Virus.

“When it comes to West Nile virus it is never really a question of ‘if’ we can expect to see the disease locally, but rather ‘when”, said Robert Resendes, Public Health Director. “What we can do is be proactive against being bitten and be aware that there are other diseases that could present themselves in El Paso.”

The Vector Control Program with the Environmental Services Department has been setting traps this season since May. The mosquito pool that tested positive was located in the central part of town within the 79903 zip code.

In years past, human cases of diseases like Chikungunya, Dengue, and Zika virus have been seen in El Paso but in travel-associated cases only. El Paso has yet to see a locally acquired case of these diseases. When it comes to West Nile, there have been no cases reported this season, but a total of 14 human cases were confirmed locally last year.

As we continue to see sporadic rains in the area, residents are reminded that it only takes a teaspoon of water to create breeding conditions around your home.

El Pasoans are urged to “Tip and Toss” items outside their homes frequently, to prevent stagnant water which could result in mosquito breeding. Residents should also follow these tips.

  • DEET – Use insect repellents that contain DEET when outdoors.
  • DRESS – Wear long sleeves, long pants, and socks when outdoors.
  • DUSK and DAWN – Although mosquitoes associated with Zika can be active throughout the day, residents should take extra care during peak mosquito biting hours (from dusk to dawn) or consider avoiding outdoor activities during these times.
  • DRAIN – Drain standing water from flowerpots, gutters, buckets, pool covers, pet water dishes, and birdbaths.

For more information on the Public Health Department, call 2-1-1 or visit www.EPHealth.com or www.EPSalud.com

Department of Health: Zika Prevention Season Begins Now

With the arrival of spring and the increase of people and businesses watering, the Public Health Department reminds everyone to be mindful of mosquitoes.

“We have lived with West Nile virus making the rounds in El Paso for many years,” said Public Health Director Robert Resendes. “Now we’re also trying to prevent locally-acquired cases of the Zika virus which can lead to severe birth defects and even lead to still births. That is why pregnant women are encouraged to avoid all mosquito bites and to inform their healthcare provider if they have any of the symptoms associated with Zika such as fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes).”

As temperatures start to climb, the department urges residents to prevent mosquito breeding, mosquito bites and mosquito-borne diseases that can have a devastating impact on the community.

While El Paso has not had any cases of Zika virus, there have been three imported cases of Zika going back to 2016. Although the mosquitoes that are associated with Zika are different from those that transmit West Nile virus, both types of mosquitoes exist in El Paso County.

Fortunately, many of the mosquito prevention measures are the same for all mosquitoes.

  • DEET – Use insect repellents that contain DEET when outdoors.
  • DRESS – Wear long sleeves, long pants, and socks when outdoors.
  • DUSK and DAWN – Although mosquitoes associated with Zika can be active throughout the day, residents should take extra care during peak mosquito biting hours (from dusk to dawn) or consider avoiding outdoor activities during these times.
  • DRAIN – Drain standing water from flowerpots, gutters, buckets, pool covers, pet water dishes, and birdbaths.

Residents can also mosquito-proof their home by repairing screens on windows and doors in order to keep out mosquitoes. If you know of an area where ponding and/or mosquito breeding is taking place, you can call vector control by dialing 3-1-1.

For mosquito bite prevention tips, follow the department on Facebook and Twitter or visit the City of El Paso YouTube channel for a story on Zika season in the latest Your City in 5 segment.

For more information on the Public Health Department call 2-1-1.

$420,000 Grant Funds Study on What Makes Humans Susceptible to Zika

Haoquan Wu, Ph.D., associate professor in the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine (PLFSOM), has received a two-year, $420,000 grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) to study the mosquito-borne virus Zika.

“Zika virus outbreaks pose a serious health challenge worldwide,” says Wu. “However, very little is known about this virus, including how it replicates and kills host cells.”

With the NIAID grant, Wu and his colleagues at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso) will try to determine which human genes enable the virus to attack and kill human cells. To do this, Wu will conduct a genome-wide knockout screening — a process that specifically knocks out, or deactivates, each gene in the human genome —to identify the genes involved by process of elimination.

As each gene is deactivated, cells will be put to the test and infected with Zika. The cells that are able to resist and survive the virus’ attack will help identify which genes Zika is harnessing to survive in the human body.

“By deactivating one gene at a time, we hope to understand how the virus takes advantage of certain properties of human cells to aid the virus in multiplying and ultimately destroying our cells,” Wu says. “With this information, we then could develop specific and effective treatments to stop Zika.”

The TTUHSC El Paso team plans to use CRISPR-Cas9, a technology that allows scientists to deactivate genes, to conduct their work.

Zika-Carrying Mosquitoes Back in NM: What You Can Do

LAS CRUCES, N.M. – The New Mexico Department of Health says a species of mosquitoes that can transmit the Zika virus has been identified in Doña Ana County. It’s the first time this season – and the second year in a row – that these specific species have been found in the southern part of the state.

Dr. Alfredo Vigil is a former secretary for the department. He says threats to public health funding and education in today’s growing anti-science political climate are the greatest hindrances to preventing Zika and other outbreaks, and it’s important for people to protect themselves.

“As much as possible, people should eliminate standing water,” he says. “Secondly, people should use insect repellent in those areas where this is a risk. There’ve been governmental efforts to spray high-risk areas to try to decrease mosquito proliferation.”

He says folks in southern New Mexico – especially mothers and women who are pregnant – would be wise to take precautions. Zika’s worst effects are to children and the unborn. It can be carried and transmitted by human adults without symptoms.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and federal health departments have done well at predicting where the disease-carrying insects will be, Vigil says. However, as a mechanism of evolution, it’s possible they can acclimate to more diverse environments such as southern New Mexico, where there is plenty of space for outdoor recreation in peak mosquito season.

“It’s not a surprise that more mosquitoes have been found, and frankly it won’t be a surprise when a few cases of actual human infection are detected,” he adds.

Vigil says mosquitoes that have caused the widest concern for spreading Zika have traditionally stayed closer to warmer and more humid climates, but he warns not to underestimate their pursuit of their primary food source, human blood.

Author: Brett McPherson, Public News Service (NM)

UTEP Researchers Use Winter Season to Analyze Summer Mosquito Data

Winter may bring a decrease in mosquitos to the Borderland, but that doesn’t stop the research from happening inside UTEP’s Mosquito Ecology and Surveillance Laboratory (MESL).

The research, led by Doug Watts, Ph.D., is of critical importance to local health experts, but is now gaining national attention with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Zika Response Team.

Dr. Watts in mosquito lab at UTEP, Wednesday, May 4, 2016, in El Paso, Texas. Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre/UTEP Communications
Dr. Watts in mosquito lab at UTEP, Wednesday, May 4, 2016, in El Paso, Texas. Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre/UTEP Communications

Watts’ team spent the spring and summer months trapping mosquitoes along our U.S.-Mexico border as part of their dedicated tracking program to monitor the population density of vector species and are now analyzing the data.

They’ve also been testing mosquitoes for viruses for the past three years. And this past summer they also took on the task of testing mosquitoes in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV).

Watts has been studying mosquitoes for nearly 40 years that began in 1977, and though his team hasn’t confirmed Zika in any of the locally and/or RGV collected mosquitoes, he isn’t surprised to hear about the first locally transmitted Zika case in Texas.

The Texas Department of State Health Services and Cameron County Department of Health and Human Services announced the state’s first case of Zika virus disease likely transmitted by a mosquito this week on Nov. 28.

Dr. Watts in mosquito lab at UTEP, Wednesday, May 4, 2016, in El Paso, Texas. Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre/UTEP Communications
Dr. Watts in mosquito lab at UTEP, Wednesday, May 4, 2016, in El Paso, Texas. Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre/UTEP Communications

There are no other cases of suspected local transmission at this time, but health officials continue to conduct disease surveillance activities as part of the state’s ongoing Zika response program.

“This tells us the virus (Zika) can be introduced and transmitted locally and could readily spread along the border corridor,” Watts said.

“Though our risk is low and the mosquito population is now being reduced because of the winter, we are always working to immediately detect any virus that is introduced into the El Paso community to alert the El Paso mosquito control personnel to stamp out the virus before it can spread and become established in the community.

This week the leader of CDC Zika Response Team in Texas reached out to these UTEP scientists to learn more about their research and surveillance data.

Dr. Watts in mosquito lab at UTEP, Wednesday, May 4, 2016, in El Paso, Texas. Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre/UTEP Communications
Dr. Watts in mosquito lab at UTEP, Wednesday, May 4, 2016, in El Paso, Texas. Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre/UTEP Communications

The request came after the Texas case was diagnosed and after the UTEP team presented talks on their mosquito and virus research during a border health meeting last week in El Paso.

The CDC is especially interested in UTEP’s findings because it will help to better understand just how well prepared the border region is for combatting Zika virus transmission.

“Our data could help in the fight against Zika if we find the disease early,” explained Watts. “I’ve always thought Zika would first concentrate around the southern border of Texas, which offers an ideal mosquito environment.”

MESL’s work also entails informing and training local mosquito control and health care professionals working to both eliminate the vector mosquitoes.

It also provides bilingual preventive education to elementary school children with a uniqueoutreach program designed to help student understand how to avoid the bite of mosquitoes.

Dr. Watts in mosquito lab at UTEP, Wednesday, May 4, 2016, in El Paso, Texas. Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre/UTEP Communications
Dr. Watts in mosquito lab at UTEP, Wednesday, May 4, 2016, in El Paso, Texas. Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre/UTEP Communications

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, as of November 25th, Texas has had 257 confirmed cases of Zika virus disease.

Until now, all cases had been associated with foreign travel, including two infants born to women who had traveled during their pregnancy and two people who had sexual contact with infected travelers.

Dr. Watts said, “We no longer have to wonder if the Zika virus containing mosquitoes will make their way to Texas, it is about how we use our collective research expertise and technology to combat it moving forward.”

El Paso Dept of Pubic Health: Third Travel-Associated Case of Zika Virus Confirmed

The City of El Paso Department of Public Health (DPH) announced today the confirmation of the third travel-related case of Zika virus in the area.

A pregnant woman in her mid-30s tested positive for the virus following travel to South America.

“This report comes during a time when our weather seems to be cooling down,” said Fernando Gonzalez, Lead Epidemiologist. “We need to consider that mosquitoes that could transmit this disease are still active, and that all the cases we’ve seen locally so far have come from travel to other countries,” he said.

The DPH is encouraging anyone who may be traveling to Zika-affected regions including certain areas of Florida, Central and South America, the Caribbean, Pacific Islands, Asia, and U.S. territories to take strict precautions against being bitten by mosquitoes.

Because Zika can also be transmitted sexually, anyone who travels to a Zika-affected area should either abstain from sexual activity, or use condoms correctly and consistently for the following amount of time.

  • Men with possible Zika virus exposure, regardless of symptom status, should wait at least 6 months from symptom onset (if symptomatic) or last possible exposure (if asymptomatic) before attempting conception with their partner. They should also wait at least 6 months before having condomless sex to minimize their risk for sexual transmission of Zika virus to partners.
  • Women with possible Zika virus exposure are recommended to wait to conceive until at least 8 weeks after symptom onset (if symptomatic) or last possible Zika virus exposure (if asymptomatic).
  • To protect the unborn fetus from possible birth defects, such as microcephaly, persons who have traveled to or lived in an area with active Zika virus transmission and whose partner is pregnant should consistently and correctly use condoms during sex or abstain from sex for the duration of the pregnancy.
  • Additionally, non-pregnant women of childbearing age who travel, or who have a male partner who travels, to a Zika-affected region, should talk with their healthcare providers about their pregnancy plans and take steps to avoid any unintended pregnancy, including correct and consistent condom use.

Zika virus is a generally mild illness that is spread primarily through the bite of an infected mosquito. Common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes), lasting from several days to one week. An infected patient’s blood can remain infectious to mosquitoes for up to two weeks.

The following prevention methods are highly encouraged to prevent many mosquito-borne diseases including Zika and West Nile virus:

  • Apply EPA-approved insect repellent. (Follow manufacturer’s instructions.)
  • Wear pants and long-sleeve shirts that cover exposed skin. In warmer weather, wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing that covers exposed skin.
  • Use screens or close windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out of your home.
  • “Tip and Toss” – Remove standing water in and around the home. This includes water in cans, toys, tires, plant saucers, and any container that can hold water.
  • Cover trash cans or containers where water can collect.
  • To avoid infecting local mosquitoes, people who travel to areas with active Zika transmission take steps to prevent mosquito bites for at least three weeks after they return to Texas – and longer if they develop an illness that could be Zika.
  • To report standing water or other mosquito breeding sites, please call 3-1-1.

Outreach efforts to combat Zika and the mosquitoes that transmit the disease began locally here in El Paso in February after an outbreak was detected in Brazil. Informational materials continue to be made available and are updated on the webpage located at: http://www.elpasotexas.gov/public-health/current-events/zika-viruspage.

Fourth West Nile Case Reported in El Paso Area

A fourth case of West Nile virus has been reported to the City of El Paso Department of Public Health. The patient is a man in his 30’s who lives in the Lower Valley.

“With both West Nile and Zika viruses posing a threat to our community’s health, we want to make sure that residents practice the ‘Tip and Toss’ efforts we have been promoting for several months,” said Robert Resendes, Public Health Director. “With funding for Zika prevention at a standstill, it’s all the more important that we take personal initiative to halt the spread of mosquito-borne diseases and protect ourselves and families from mosquito bites.”

The case comes as El Paso continues to see rainy weather conditions which can create breeding conditions for the mosquitoes that carry the disease.

This is why health officials continue to urge residents to take personal measures to remove standing water outside their homes.

The Department of Public Health continues to recommend other mosquito bite prevention tips including:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants
  • Drain standing water both inside and outside your home – Tip and Toss!
  • Stay in cool places with air conditioning and window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside
  • Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents with one of the following active             ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or para-menthane-diol (Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months old)
  • More information is available at www.EPHealth.com under the Zika Virus page

To report standing water or other mosquito breeding sites, call 3-1-1. Please be sure to provide address or street names with cross streets when calling.

The public is also reminded that the Department of Public Health’s Speakers Bureau is also offering presentations to community groups that focus on mosquito-borne disease prevention.

This includes both Zika and West Nile. For more information or to schedule a presentation, please visit:  http://bit.ly/EPHealthSpeakers

The mission of the Department of Public Health is to provide research and evaluation, prevention, intervention, and mobilization services to the people of El Paso so they can be healthy, productive, safe, and secure.

For more information on the programs and services offered by the El Paso Department of Public Health, visit EPHealth.com or dial 2-1-1.

El Paso Health Officials Announce Second Travel-Related case of Zika

The City of El Paso Department of Public Health (DPH) announced today the confirmation of the second travel-related case of Zika virus in the area. A non-pregnant woman tested positive for the virus following travel to Puerto Rico.

The island has been identified as a Zika affected area where active mosquito transmission of Zika is currently taking place.

“This individual spent a week in this affected area and started showing symptoms shortly after returning to El Paso on August 17th,” said Robert Resendes, Public Health Director. “This person has since self-isolated, but this latest case is another reminder to the community to protect themselves, especially when traveling to highly affected areas.”

Earlier this week the DPH announced a third case of West Nile virus in the area and in order to prevent the spread of several types of mosquito-borne diseases, personal protection is essential.

In regards to Zika, the DPH is encouraging anyone who may be traveling to Zika-affected regions including certain areas of Florida, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, Pacific Islands, and U.S. territories to take strict precautions against being bitten by mosquitoes.

Because Zika can also be transmitted sexually, anyone who travels to a Zika-affected area should either abstain from sexual activity, or use condoms correctly and consistently for the following amount of time.

  • Men who have symptoms or are diagnosed with Zika – consider using condoms or not having sex for at least 6 months after symptoms begin.
  • Women who have symptoms or are diagnosed with Zika – consider using condoms or not having sex for at least 8 weeks after symptoms begin.
  • Men and Women with no symptoms – consider using condoms or not having sex for at least 8 weeks after returning from travel.

Couples who are expecting should use condoms correctly, every time they have any type of sexual activity or do not have sex for the entire pregnancy to protect the unborn fetus from the risk of severe birth defects, including microcephaly.

Additionally, non-pregnant women of childbearing age who travel, or who have a male partner who travels, to a Zika-affected region, should talk with their healthcare providers about their pregnancy plans and take steps to avoid any unintended pregnancy, including correct and consistent condom use.

Zika virus is a generally mild illness that is spread primarily through the bite of an infected mosquito.

Common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes), lasting from several days to one week. The following prevention methods are highly encouraged to prevent many mosquito-borne diseases including Zika and West Nile virus:

  • Apply EPA-approved insect repellent. (Follow manufacturer’s instructions)
  • Wear pants and long-sleeve shirts that cover exposed skin. In warmer weather, wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing that covers exposed skin.
  • Use screens or close windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out of your home.
  • “Tip and Toss” – Remove standing water in and around the home. This includes water in cans, toys, tires, plant saucers, and any container that can hold water.
  • Cover trash cans or containers where water can collect.
  • To avoid infecting local mosquitoes, people who travel to areas with active Zika transmission should apply insect repellent every time they go outside for at least three weeks after they return to Texas – and longer if they develop an illness that could be Zika.

Efforts to combat Zika and the mosquitoes that transmit the disease began locally here in El Paso in February after an outbreak was detected in Brazil. On May 9, the DPH convened a stakeholders meeting with key officials in public health and other related fields. Contact with these groups continues as the threat of local transmission remains a possibility.

The DPH has provided thousands of informational materials both in print and online to key stakeholders including doctor’s offices, recreation centers, and through our clinical venues. These materials continue to be made available and are updated on the webpage.

We continue to offer educational presentations to local groups through our Speakers Bureau and invite all members of the community to share our social media posts via Facebook and Twitter as well as public service announcements via the City’s YouTube channel.

In addition to the educational efforts, the DPH has purchased and begun distributing Zika prevention kits. These kits, which include a can of mosquito repellant, will be distributed to pregnant and child bearing age women participating in the WIC program as well as those living in the colonias.

In regards to mosquito control, the Vector Control Program of the City’s Environmental Services Department continues to actively treat areas throughout the region and monitor for mosquitoes. This includes numerous fogging events throughout the county twice a week. Monitoring efforts included the trapping and testing of more than two dozen mosquito traps.

This allows the City to closely monitor mosquito activity in our region. Other efforts include inspecting and treating any stagnant water, which includes checking vacant houses with pools and those without pools. To report standing water or other mosquito breeding sites, please call 3-1-1.

The mission of the Department of Public Health is to provide research and evaluation, prevention, intervention, and mobilization services to the people of El Paso so they can be healthy, productive, safe, and secure. For more information on the programs and services offered by the Department of Public Health, visit EPHealth.com or dial 2-1-1.

Health Department announces First Case of Zika in El Paso; Man Contracted Virus in Florida

The City of El Paso Department of Public Health announced Monday afternoon that an El Pasoan contracted the Zika virus after traveling to the Greater Miami area.

During a news conference, officials say the man traveled to Miami area, contracted the Zika virus while there and then returned to El Paso.  Officials added that the man was no longer infectious and that residents should remain vigilant against mosquitoes after recent rains.

“The patient provided blood and urine samples which were tested and came back positive. What we know is that this individual is recovering and is not considered a threat to the community,” said Robert Resendes, Public Health Director. “What we need is the community to take note that Zika virus is real, and we must protect ourselves and the community.”

The mosquito-borne virus has caused the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to issue travel warnings for pregnant women. The DPH is also encouraging anyone who may be traveling to Zika-affected regions including certain areas of Florida, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, Pacific Islands, and U.S. territories to take strict precautions against being bitten by mosquitoes.

Because Zika can also be transmitted sexually, pregnant women with a male partner who travels to a Zika-affected area should either abstain from sexual activity, or use condoms correctly and consistently for the duration of their pregnancy to protect the unborn fetus from the risk of severe birth defects, including microcephaly.

Additionally, non-pregnant women of childbearing age who travel, or who have a male partner that travels, to a Zika-affected region, should talk with their healthcare providers about their pregnancy plans and take steps to avoid any unintended pregnancy, including correct and consistent condom use.

According to the Department of State Health Services, there are 108 reported cases of Zika virus disease in Texas.

Efforts to combat the Zika virus and the mosquitoes that transmit the disease began locally in February after an outbreak was detected in Brazil. On May 9 the DPH convened a stakeholders meeting with key officials in public health and other related fields. Contact with these groups continues as the threat of local transmission remains a possibility.

Zika virus is spread to people through mosquito bites. The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week.

Officials took the opportunity to again ask residents across the Borderland to take a proactive approach against mosquito-borne diseases by making sure they “Tip and Toss” items that are retaining water in their yards.  These mosquitoes are responsible for spreading various diseases such as West Nile virus and have the potential of bringing the Zika virus to our area.

The Department also wants to get residents in the habit of using the following additional prevention measures:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants
  • Stay in cool places with air conditioning and window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside
  • Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents with one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or para-menthane-diol.

(Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months old.)

Second Local West Nile Case Confirmed in El Paso

Today, the City of El Paso Department of Public Health received its second confirmed case of West Nile virus for the year. The patient, who is recovering, is a man in his mid-20’s who lives in Central El Paso.

Additionally, two mosquito traps in the Mission Valley have tested positive for West Nile virus.

“This new case and new positive mosquito pools are a reminder that mosquitoes are active and we can say for sure, some of them have the potential to spread disease,” said Fernando Gonzalez, Lead Epidemiologist.

With the Zika virus now being spread locally in Florida, and with other mosquito-borne disease threats, the Health Department continues to recommend mosquito bite prevention tips. The recommendations are:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants
  • Drain standing water both inside and outside your home
  • Stay in cool places with air conditioning and window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside
  • Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents with one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or para-menthane-diol (Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months old)

To report standing water or other mosquito breeding sites, call the Environmental Services Department Vector Control Program at 3-1-1.

El Paso Water, City Health Department partner for ‘Zika Zero’ Event Saturday

As we approach the wetter months here in the Borderland, El Paso Water – along with local health officials – are looking to inform residents on the threat of the Zika Virus.

The World Health Organization has declared Zika a public health emergency, and while the vast majority of cases are outside the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is monitoring hundreds of cases in the United States.

Texas has had 63 reported cases.  To date, no cases have been reported in El Paso.

“El Paso Water is pleased to partner with The City Public Health Department and Environmental Services and other community partners on the ‘Zika Zero’ campaign, said Lisa Rosendorf, El Paso Water spokeswoman and member of the City’s Zika Task Force.

“We all need to learn what actions to take to protect ourselves and our families from this virus,” she added.

For that reason, Rosendorf is encouraging the public to attend the “Zika Zero at TecH20: A Family Learning Event,” Saturday at 10751 Montana. The event, which will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., is free to the public.

Experts will share information with adults on travel advisories, health risks and Zika transmission.

The event will also feature educational activities for children, including the opportunity to look through microscopes at mosquitoes with scientists from the University of Texas at El Paso.

The CDC notes that Zika is spread by the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti species mosquito—aggressive daytime biters that can also bite at night. The CDC also warns that the virus can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects.

While many people infected with the virus won’t show any symptoms, common signs include: fever, rash and joint pain. There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.

As a proactive measure to ensure that El Paso residents limit breeding grounds and the possibility for mosquito-transmitted diseases, the City of El Paso Department of Public Health has asked the public to toss any items around the exterior of their home that retain water.

Health officials have said that rains create breeding grounds for mosquitos that are often responsible for spreading diseases such as the West Nile Virus and have the potential to introduce Zika to the El Paso area.

Health department spokesman Armando Saldivar said the reason the City, County and other partners are working together to get the word out on Zika in the region is because if just one person is infected with the virus, a simple mosquito bite to that person could start a chain reaction and spread the virus.

“Unlike other mosquito-borne viruses, with Zika, an uninfected mosquito can be infected if it bites a person carrying the virus,” Saldivar said. “This creates the possibility of ballooning cases if we don’t prevent transmission. This is why we are pushing for zero cases in the region.”

Aside from urging people to eliminate retaining water from homes and yards, health and city officials are also encouraging residents to take the following safety measures during mosquito season.

 Wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants

 Stay in cool places with air conditioning and windows and door screens to keep mosquitos outside

 Use insect repellents

 For more information visit www.EPHealth.com under the Zika Virus page.

UTEP Researchers Lead Battle Against Mosquitoes

Humans are bigger, faster, smarter and more powerful than mosquitoes, yet we still can’t beat them. But for 50 years, Doug Watts, Ph.D., has been trying.

Well ahead of monsoon season – in fact, starting well before the first of the year – Watts and his team at UTEP’s Mosquito Ecology and Surveillance Laboratory (MESL) have been tracking the pesky insects’ travels around the world due to a concern that has since become a global crisis: Zika virus.

Of immediate concern is the fact that the particular mosquito that transmits Zika (as well as dengue fever and chikungunya, another disease on the rise) is the second-most abundant species in El Paso.

Watts knows this particular insect almost better than anyone. The internationally renowned researcher of mosquito-borne diseases is celebrating his fifth decade in the field and has amassed expertise in infectious disease all over the world. He began chasing down this species, Aedes aegypti, starting in 1977 in Bangkok, Thailand.

“At that time I recognized just how difficult it was to control this mosquito, to do anything to reduce the population,” he said.

Watts, who is also the co-director of infectious disease and immunology for the University’s Border Biomedical Research Center, was a research biologist for the Department of Defense (DoD) for 28 years, where he conducted field and laboratory research on the ecology and epidemiology of enteric, parasitic and viral diseases in Asia, Africa and South America. Watts also served as the scientific director of the Naval Medical Research Center’s Overseas Research Program.

After his retirement from the DoD, he worked as a scientific administrator and infectious disease investigator at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. There, his research was focused on emerging viral disease and the evaluation of candidate therapeutics and vaccines for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and West Nile viruses.

In 2013, Watts, UTEP and a team of fellow researchers from around the world were awarded a five-year, $6 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to develop and evaluate a Rift Valley fever vaccine for protecting livestock against the disease in Africa.

Watts continues to apply his vast experience to emerging viral diseases – or re-emerging, in the case of Zika, as it was first discovered in Uganda in 1947. For decades it remained obscure, non-problematic and undetected outside Africa. Yet more than 60 years later, the virus has become an international concern due to its unexpected spread and unpredictable biological effects.

Only 14 human cases of Zika virus were documented until 2007, when a Zika outbreak occurred on Yap Island, a tiny island in the North Pacific Ocean. Approximately 75 percent of the population was infected, exhibiting the symptoms that the majority of people who contract the virus will have: fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis.

“This was the alarm that Zika is on its way, it’s moving,” Watts said. “Nobody paid any attention.”

In 2013, Zika was identified in New Caledonia, 2,300 miles southeast of Yap Island. When it hit French Polynesia that same year (almost 3,000 miles away), it caused a major outbreak among an estimated 20,000 people. There, it was also first associated with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a neurological condition that can cause a kind of temporary paralysis.

And then in 2015, the virus arrived in Brazil, and the world has been on high alert since.

Watts explained that Zika virus was probably in Brazil back in 2014, but no one knew to look for it, nor what to look for.

“By that time, it spread all over Brazil and probably to other countries, just like Ebola did in West Africa,” Watts said. “That’s one of the weaknesses in our surveillance programs throughout the world. We don’t have a very effective, proactive surveillance in place. We always respond retroactively. These viruses don’t wait; they move.”

The veteran researcher is keeping in close contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as health agencies around the Southwest. He hypothesizes that when – not if – Zika arrives in the U.S., it will first concentrate around the southern border of Texas, which offers an ideal mosquito environment. And despite ages of building civilization up to modern-day standards, the bugs still seem to be outsmarting humans.

Mosquito control boils down to reducing the bugs’ population density to a level that is not sufficient for transmission of a virus. To this end, the MESL has conducted studies over the past two years to gauge the local mosquito population. Watts believes it has resulted in an unprecedented amount of data valuable not just to El Paso, but also to the entire Southwest.

“I don’t think anybody in California, Arizona, New Mexico or Texas has that kind of data, and it has a lot to do with my having experience doing research and understanding what are the important questions to ask,” Watts said. “If you’re going to have virus transmission, you’ve got to have the vector for those mosquito-borne diseases. So, the first question I ask is, ‘Do we have them? And, if so, how many are out there?’”

Watts has teamed up on a grant application with New Mexico State University, North Texas University, The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine and the Ministry of Health in Matamoros, Mexico. The team aims to determine the actual impact of dengue, chikungunya and Zika on human health in the U.S.-Mexico border community of Brownsville and Matamoros.

The study will provide comparative data that will identify possible ecological, biological and socio-economic differences that contribute to the incidence of these diseases in these communities. The emphasis will be on understanding the reportedly higher incidence of mosquito-borne diseases in Mexican communities versus the U.S. border communities.

Such information is particularly critical for designing and applying vector control measures, which are the only methods available for preventing mosquito-borne diseases.

Researchers working alongside Watts include UTEP undergraduate and graduate students as well as Laboratory Director Celina Crews. They are busy day in and day out trapping mosquitoes as part of their dedicated tracking program.

Watts’ team also is racing to develop a more accurate Zika-specific diagnostic test, which will be a tremendous step toward treatment and containment of the virus. But it’s not that easy. As Watts said, “It’s a big mess.”Mosquito-Deadliest-AnimalsWEB

“The patient becomes infected with Zika virus, the virus circulates in the blood and appears about three days after the patient is infected, then it circulates through the body up to about day eight, then the virus is cleared by antibodies,” he explained. “Now, what happens when Zika infects a person who has already had an infection with a closely related virus, like West Nile or dengue or yellow fever, the antibodies produced by Zika are very much like the antibodies produced by dengue, yellow fever and West Nile. So you test the person after they have cleared [Zika] virus to try to figure out if that person had the other viruses, and it’s impossible – we don’t have a test that will distinguish among those different antibodies, they’re so closely related.”

“You’re left with a very difficult situation to try to make an interpretation,” Watts added. “A lot of people don’t get sick when they’re infected with Zika – about 80 percent don’t get any disease and 20 percent get a very mild disease … After that five-to-seven day period when you start to recover, then it’s too late [to test].”

Furthermore, there is no vaccine. Watts estimates that about 300 mosquito-transmitted diseases have been identified with perhaps 100 of them causing human disease. In the United States, there is only one approved vaccine or therapeutic for any of those diseases – yellow fever.

“If mosquito control is ever going to work, the number one priority is education,” Watts said.

To this end, MESL informs mosquito control and health care professionals working to both eliminate the pests and treat anyone who becomes infected with the diseases after being bitten. It also provides bilingual preventive education to elementary school children, leaving them with coloring books that inform well beyond just providing an artistic outlet. Some of these are tactics as simple as not allowing toys or tires to stay outside where water can pool and attract breeding bugs.

“That’s why you have to tell the kids because they’re the ones who remind you,” said undergraduate researcher Marcela Diaz. She has been working with MESL since summer 2014 as one of the dozen students (both bachelor’s and master’s candidates) on the team.

For all the work that still needs to be done, Watts can point to one aspect that has been an undeniable success.

“What’s really satisfying is to see the students having an opportunity to take part in this kind of a project,” he said. “It gives them a lot of skills that are going to give them a job in public health, or if they want to go and get an advanced degree, it gives them a background that certainly is better than most students get, a practical application through theoretical knowledge of mosquito-borne diseases.

Albert Soliz is a field and lab technician who came to MESL in 2013 as an El Paso Community College participant in UTEP’s Bridges to Baccalaureate program. After graduating from EPCC, Soliz became a full-time employee with the lab.

“My little nephew, he’s six years old, and we took him one of these coloring books,” Soliz said. “Now, if he sees water outside, he’ll come inside and say, ‘You better go get rid of that water because there’s gonna be mosquitoes here tomorrow!’ When he goes to school, he tells everybody, too – ‘Close the doors, mosquitoes are coming in!’

Zika is receiving even greater news coverage now that summer is upon us, and Watts anticipates that we’ll only see more of this in the future, for as the population of human beings increases around the world, so does the opportunity for these viruses to be transmitted.

He added, “It’s going to be a never-ending profession to stay ahead of these crazy bugs.”

Thanks to Watts and the MESL, the world will be armed with many more well-trained researchers to fight those crazy bugs and, hopefully, win.

Author: Lisa Y. Garibay – UTEP Communications

Mosquito Season is Zika Prevention Season; City Reminds Residents to ‘Tip and Toss’

The City of El Paso Department of Public Health is asking residents across the borderland to take a proactive approach against mosquito-borne diseases by making sure they Tip and Toss items that are retaining water in their yards.

The message comes after recent rains which have created the potential for mosquito breeding in El Paso. These mosquitoes are responsible for spreading various diseases such as West Nile virus and have the potential of bringing the Zika virus to our area.

“We need to make sure that emptying items with stagnant water outside our homes is as common as watering the grass or sweeping the sidewalk,” said Fernando Gonzalez, Lead Epidemiologist. “We need adults, children, and everyone in the household to consider the effects of standing water after it rains.”

The Department also wants to get residents in the habit of using the following additional prevention measures:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants
  • Stay in cool places with air conditioning and window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside
  • Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents with one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or para-menthane-diol. (Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months old.)

To report standing water or other mosquito breeding sites, call the Environmental Services Department Vector Control Program at 3-1-1.

Department of Health Confirms first West Nile Case in El Paso this Year

The City of El Paso announced today that the first case of West Nile Virus in El Paso this season has been confirmed. The patient is a man in his late 70’s who lives in the central part of town.

The news comes as the Department of Public Health begins its efforts to prevent mosquito-borne diseases like West Nile and the newly emerging Zika virus.

“There are two different mosquito species that carry these two diseases and others,” said Fernando Gonzalez, Lead Epidemiologist. “Both of the mosquito types are known to be present in our city but behave differently in that the mosquito that carries Zika is active both indoors and outdoors and is active at all times of the day and night,” he said.

Because of the threat of Zika virus as well as West Nile virus and other mosquito-borne diseases, the Department continues to recommend mosquito bite prevention tips as provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which are different than prevention tips previously promoted. The new tips are as follows:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants
  • Drain standing water both inside and outside your home
  • Stay in cool places with air conditioning and window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside
  • Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents with one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or para-menthane-diol

(Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months old)

To report standing water or other mosquito breeding sites, call the Environmental Services Department Vector Control Program at 3-1-1.

The mission of the Department of Public Health is to provide research and evaluation, prevention, intervention, and mobilization services to the people of El Paso so they can be healthy, productive, safe, and secure.

For more information on the programs and services offered by the Department of Public Health, visit EPHealth.com or dial 2-1-1