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Health & Science

Houston Healthcare Providers Screen Pregnant Women For Zika Virus

They’re asking patients about their travel history, and whether they’re experiencing any symptoms of the virus.


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Mosquito on skin
James Gathany/CDC

So far, health officials have confirmed at least seven known cases of Zika virus in the region. Researchers say the mosquito-borne virus could be linked to birth defects.

Dr. Anne Barnes is chief medical officer at Legacy Community Health. The group provides prenatal care to about 300 pregnant women a day across southeast Texas.

"Many of the patients that we have the honor of serving come from Central and South America where there are now epidemics of Zika virus transmission, so we felt it was really important that we would be mindful and aware," Barnes says.

Barnes says they're asking patients about their travel history, and whether they're experiencing any symptoms of the virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most people infected with Zika virus don't experience any symptoms, but the most common ones include fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes.

"When they have those symptoms, then our suspicion of exposure to Zika is elevated, and we activate then the local health authorities, either the City of Houston Health Department or Harris County Public Health and Environmental Service," Barnes says.

Last week, Dallas County Health and Human Services confirmed that a patient there acquired the virus through sexual contact. But Barnes says the chance of contracting the virus that way is very low.

"You're potentially at risk if you travel to a high-risk country where there is a high level of Zika transmission through mosquito bites, and your best strategy for defense is either to postpone your travel or to really aggressively try to prevent mosquito bites," she says.

Barnes says some ways to do that are using mosquito repellant, wearing long clothing and staying in air conditioned areas.