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As Austin Enters Mosquito Season, No Big Changes To Protocol

A mosquito on someone's hand
James Jordan

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 opens – a time ripe for insect breeding. 

“We have not had any reason to believe that there’s any infected mosquitos in the area with this virus,” said Sabrina Vidaurri, a health officer supervisor with the City of Austin. “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 the 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 the 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 committee. “But we know as the weather heats up and we get more mosquitos, we sort of have this window of opportunity to do everything that we can to prevent the mosquito population from growing and trying to reduce that population as much as we can.”

The city will trap and test mosquitos as it normally does during these warm months. It sends trapped mosquitos to a state lab to be tested. Normally, the state tests for any viruses, and then, if a mosquito is flagged, the state would test for a specific virus. But the state 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 Texas Department of State Health Services 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 mosquitos as they crop up, usually near standing water. This focus is considered best practice, 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.” 

Audrey McGlinchy is KUT's housing reporter. She focuses on affordable housing solutions, renters’ rights and the battles over zoning. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.
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