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LAREDO, Texas – With Paisanos soon to return to their homes in the United States, officials are making sure they bring only the essentials – and avoid any issues with the authorities or the health department.

The health windows program (Ventanillas de Salud — VDS) run by the General Mexican Consulate in Laredo seeks to prevent travelers from bringing back prohibited items. A top priority this year is to stop Paisanos bringing the Zika Virus into the United States.

Waldo Lopez

Waldo Lopez, City of Laredo Health Department Associate Director, explained the importance of this issue, especially for women who are in a reproductive age and that visited places where Zika virus is present.

“If a woman in a reproductive age has been bitten by mosquitoes, she should be aware of the following symptoms: fever, a rash, conjunctivitis and/or joint pain,” Lopez said.

The local health departments around the United States have the appropriate equipment to diagnose if the person is carrying the Zika virus.

According to Lopez there are six cases in Laredo, but in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, there have been reported more than 300 cases.

“The cases in Laredo are the result of persons visiting places in México where the Zika virus has spread,” Lopez added.

He added the infected person most of the time doesn’t even feel the symptoms, but the most affected is the unborn baby.

“What we want to make sure is to protect the baby, since he/she can be born with microcephalia and congenital defect for life,” he said.

For more information regarding the services of the Mexican Consulate in Laredo, download the “miconsulmex” app.

Other issues the Mexican Consulate’s office is concerned about include Paisanos coming back to the United States with products that are prohibited.

“Travelers entering the United States are required to declare any meats, fruits, vegetables, plants, animals, and plant and animal products they are bringing with them,” a brochure from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) explains.

Also, those permitted products should be for personal use only, and not commercial.

“All agricultural items will require inspection and those found to be contaminated with plant pests or diseases will be refused entry,” the document states.

A list of products permitted and those prohibited to enter the United States can be found by visiting www.aphis.usda.gov

With regard to alcoholic beverages there are also some rules.

The person may not import more than one gallon of distilled spirits, three gallons of wine and 24 twelve ounce containers of beer/malt liquor for personal use and a fee should be paid also.

“The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) collects in excess of $250 million annually in taxes and fees which aids in the financing of public schools and many public assistance programs,” a brochure from the TABC explains.

Editor’s Note: The photos accompanying this story were taken by Rio Grande Guardian senior reporter Melva Lavín-Castillo.