Here’s Why There Needs to be More Public Outreach About the Zika Virus

There’s a danger of public panic about the virus within the state.

By Rhonda FanningJune 10, 2016 11:04 am,

Recent heavy rains across the state, and the standing water that comes with it, has officials quite concerned.

Yesterday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner asked the state to declare a public health emergency – Texas could be have a large scale outbreak of the Zika virus on hand. It’s a disease linked to birth defects which has already become an epidemic in parts of South and Central America.

There are already 40 confirmed travel-related cases of the Zika virus in Texas, and the concern now is that this summer, the Lone Star State will reach a tipping point.

Sahotra Sarkar is a faculty member in the Department of Integrative Biology and Department of Philosophy at The University of Texas at Austin. He says the virus can be transmitted from one person to the next via mosquito bite and from sexual activity through semen.

So far some major implications of the disease are danger to fetuses and children born with microcephaly. But, Sarkar says, we don’t yet know about any long-term effects on humans.

Mosquitoes that spread the virus like to live near buildings, Sarkar says.

Gov. Greg Abbott recently asked for federal funding to help prevention efforts in Texas. Sarkar says the money should go to the Department of Health to launch a public outreach campaign to spread awareness on prevention techniques.

“It’s not going to be very easy, because the floods left all this standing water all over the place,” Sarkar says. “What could be done is to increase surveillance both for the mosquitoes … try to control the population by various measures. But also their needs to be a huge amount of public outreach asking people to make sure they do not leave uncovered bales or other containers of water near or outside their house.”

Sarkar says there is a danger of panic about the Zika virus within the state.

“I myself receive dozens of phone calls every week with people asking me exactly what is going on,” he says. “People might be very, very worried about what a mosquito can do.”

Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.

Web post by Beth Cortez-Neavel.