Health Officials Concerned over Possible Homegrown Zika Case in Nuevo Leon

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MERCEDES — Hidalgo County health officials are concerned about an investigation into what could be Nuevo Leon, Mexico’s first homegrown Zika virus case.

Hidalgo County health officials want to emphasize that no localized or homegrown cases are confirmed in the county or in the state of Texas. The urgency now is to the get word out to Rio Grande Valley communities.

Proyecto Azteca officials said the Indian Hills east and west subdivisions in rural Mercedes are on the top of the list. These are places that are a major concern in Hidalgo County.

Amber Arriaga Salinas is the spokesperson for Proyecto Azteca. She said one of the biggest problems in the area of those subdivisions is a large pool of standing water. It’s a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

“We've heard that there's a private owner. We don't know who it is, but we don't know how to fix this problem,” Arriaga said. “We're looking at different ways to find out who the owner is, how we can fix it. I know that the community has come together to collect signatures, to take it to the county, to say we are all residents of this area and we're very concerned.”

High grass, piles of brush, trash and abandoned tires are also a problem. People who live in the Indian Hills area know something has to be done to clean it up.

Lourdes Salinas is leading the effort with help from Proyecto Azteca. She said it’s crucial. She wants protection for herself and her neighbors from mosquito-carrying viruses, like Zika.

“They're not aware of it or they don't see the news. I think we have to pass the voice by meetings, or we're going to put some flyers here,” Salinas said. “We have a small convenience store, and I have the community leaders passing out the voice. They have to keep clean and pass the voice, the danger that this mosquito is.”

Hidalgo County Health and Human Services Director Eddie Olivarez said the time to mobilize coalitions, like Proyecto Azteca, is now. These organizations will help get the word out about the Zika virus to the people who live in the county.

On Wednesday, Olivarez called for a meeting with several nonprofit groups. The urgency comes after Olivarez heard about a case under investigation in the southern part of the state of Nuevo Leon, near Monterrey. That’s about three hours from the Valley.

Olivarez said the case could wind up being Nuevo Leon’s first homegrown Zika case.

“We do not know what direction it's going. We have no clue if it's going directly north, east, west,” Olivarez said. We have no idea, but the sheer fact that the investigation is taking place. We know that in southern Mexico, it's there. We know that in Central America and South America, it's there. But our situation is all of a sudden geographically, the potential is closer. That's always a concern for us.”

Olivarez said it’s important for nonprofits to help educate their communities. He said the county is doing everything it can, too. Leaders have to do that without the help of additional funding.

"We welcome any new funding that we get, state, federal, we welcome it,” Olivarez said. “We could use it, but we're not going to stop and do nothing, waiting for money. We as a community are resilient. We are our traditions, our values about helping ourselves, so I am asking, with hat in hand, the support from these coalitions, to help us mobilize and educate our community,  intervene in our community and help us take care of ourselves.”

Olivarez said each county precinct agreed to help. Employees will be putting more emphasis on keeping drainage ditches clean, the grass mowed and trash out of neighborhoods.

The health director said the county’s budget is also under review. He said it’s possible some funding may be made available for these efforts.

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