Texas Governor Presses Obama to Release Federal Zika Funds

Texas Governor Greg Abbott pressed President Barack Obama to release the estimated $400 million in federal funds earmarked for Zika preparedness and response to “Zika-prone states.” Abbott highlighted the highly vulnerable Texas southern border where local government leaders fear “sufficient funding is not available for mosquito eradication.”

Abbott urged Obama to immediately allocate a “meaningful portion” of the estimated Zika funds to Texas in a letter on Friday. He wrote: “In light of the mosquito-to-human transmission of the Zika virus in Florida – and rising concerns about Zika in Texas – it is imperative that the federal government act now to free up whatever funds are available to combat Zika.”

Abbott stated: “Reports from Congress suggest that the administration has approximately $400 million that it could use to protect Zika-prone states. I would urge your administration to dispense a meaningful portion of that money to sufficiently combat against the growing threat of Zika in Texas.”

In April, Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) officials voiced concerns that Zika-carrying mosquitoes could bring the virus into the state from Mexico. In January, Dr. Peter Hotez, Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, noted the Texas Gulf Coast could be “hardest hit’ in a Zika outbreak. The virus is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito which is indigenous to Texas. This mosquito also carries Dengue fever, common on the Texas-Mexico border, and Chikungunya, which first entered the Lone Star State in 2014, with more cases last year. In February, the DHSH feared a “transmission cycle” could happen in Texas as has happened in Florida.

“I express this sentiment not only on behalf of the State, but also on behalf of local government leaders seeking relief and protection from Zika. We request that immediate aid be provided to combat the spread of Zika and, in turn, protect our fellow Texans,” wrote Abbott in the letter.

The Governor called the “bottom line” the reality that federal funds for Zika preparedness and response are not flowing quickly enough from the Obama administration into state, county, and local health departments.

Texas remains on high alert for the spread of Zika by local mosquitoes since Florida’s outbreak. Public health officials work to forestall Zika’s arrival on existing funds. The DSHS is spending more than $6 million in state and federal funds on disease surveillance, expanded lab testing capabilities, public education and awareness, Zika prevention kits, and ongoing mosquito abatement efforts. Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) awarded the state another $720,000 to fight the disease through research.

This winter, a Texas medical center developed the nation’s first hospital-based rapid Zika detection test to cut down wait time on receiving test results from weeks to several hours. State labs proactively test for Zika. The University of Texas partnered with Brazil to develop a Zika vaccine, and a Houston hospital opened a Zika clinic for pregnant women.

Health officials advise all Texans to follow state public health prevention guidelines to minimize Zika’s impact should local mosquitoes begin to transmit the virus. Pregnant women are most vulnerable to the disease because of Zika-linked birth defects, most notably, microcephaly, a condition where babies are born with small heads and deformed brains.

As of August 5, the state reported 96 cases of Zika, including the nation’s first cases of straight and gay sexually transmitted Zika. All cases, to date, were connected to individuals traveling abroad to Zika-infested regions. Updated Texas figures show 43 pregnant woman in the CDC Zika Pregnancy Registry.

Follow Merrill Hope, an original member of the Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.

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