(BBC) – Health officials in the US state of Texas say they have recorded the first case of the Zika virus transmitted by a local mosquito.
Up until now, all Zika cases in Texas have been contracted while travelling.
The virus, which started spreading rapidly through the Americas last year, has been linked to microcephaly, a rare birth defect.
Florida is the only other US state to have reported locally caught cases of Zika.
The Texas Department of State Health Services said the patient was a woman living in Cameron County, near the Mexican border. She is not pregnant, and has not recently travelled to Mexico or anywhere else with ongoing Zika virus transmission.
“We knew it was only a matter of time before we saw a Zika case spread by a mosquito in Texas,” said Dr John Hellerstedt, the heath department commissioner.
“We still don’t believe the virus will become widespread in Texas, but there could be more cases, so people need to protect themselves from mosquito bites.”
The state said it currently has no other suspected cases of local transmission.
The infection was confirmed by testing the woman’s urine. However, a blood test proved negative, meaning that the virus can no longer be spread from her by another mosquito.
The Zika virus often causes little or no symptoms, but experts believe it is linked to complications during pregnancy, and could cause babies to be born with small heads and other developmental problems.
Texas has had 257 confirmed cases of the Zika virus, but all previous cases have been associated with travel.
What can people do to avoid the Zika virus?
As there is no treatment, the only option is to reduce the risk of being bitten.
Health officials advise people to:
- use insect repellents,
- cover up with long-sleeved clothes,
- keep windows and doors closed,
- The mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water, so people are also being told to empty buckets and flower pots.
The US Centers for Disease Control has advised pregnant women not to travel to affected areas.
Earlier in November, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the Zika virus will no longer be treated as an international medical emergency. The move was seen as an acknowledgment that Zika is here to stay.
Top: Zika virus has been linked to microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with head and brain defects. Photo: EPA via BBC