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Texas Medicaid to Thwart Zika Pregnancies Among Low-Income Homes

As the weather heats up and mosquitoes begin to breed, Texas public health officials hope to prevent low-income women from contracting Zika, a virus most devastating to their unborn babies.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) announced Tuesday it plans to bring  back a Medicaid mosquito repellent program, beginning May 1. This time, the State will expand the benefit to include eligible boys age 14-and-up, plus men, and women ages 45-to-55. By including men, officials hope to reduce the risk of sexual transmission to women.

“We want to support the health and safety of Texans,” said HHSC Executive Commissioner Charles Smith. “The best way to protect yourself from the Zika virus is by using mosquito repellent.”

In 2016, the HHSC and the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) received approval to use state funds for repellent. Texas Medicaid will cover the costs of up to two cans of mosquito repellent per month to eligible recipients at participating pharmacies. Pregnant women and females 10-to-45 years of age have been eligible for the state sponsored program since last August, Breitbart Texas reported.

Texas Medicaid, a state and federal cooperative, serves primarily low-income families, children, pregnant women, people age 65 and older, plus other needy people in the Lone Star State who might otherwise go without medical care. Texas HHS lists others who may be able to receive repellent.

Pregnant women remain the most vulnerable population because of reported Zika-related health risks to their unborn babies, most notably, microcephaly, the birth defect characterized by a baby born with a very small head and severe brain damage.

The American Academy of Pediatrics cited the typical rate of a Zika-free baby born with microcephaly as 0.07 percent, but they found roughly four percent of infants or fetuses in the United States were diagnosed with microcephaly when their mothers contracted Zika while pregnant. Overall, six percent of infants or fetuses born to a Zika-infected mother developed abnormalities consistent with the virus.

Tropical disease expert Dr. Peter Hotez told Breitbart Texas, “We’ve learned a bit more about Zika over the last year and recognize that risk of sexual transmission from male to female partners is significant, although the major mode of transmission is still mosquito bites.”

The Aedes aegypti mosquito that carries Zika is native to Texas. It also can transmit West Nile, dengue, and chikungunya viruses. This type of mosquito is an aggressive daytime biter usually found near populated areas. The virus spreads mainly through the bite of an infected mosquito, but it can also spread by sexual content. In 2016, the first cases of male-to-female and male-to-male sexually transmitted Zika within the United States happened in Dallas County.

Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine where he also heads Pediatric Tropical Medicine, expressed broader concerns over potential local transmission of Zika in the warmer spring and summer months. “So far we’ve seen Zika transmission during the winter in Cameron County in Brownsville, so we know this area is at great risk.”

In December, Breitbart Texas reported on the state’s first locally transmitted Zika case in Brownsville, a border city. This quickly became five. By mid-month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a travel warning to the county.

Hotez added, “I’m also concerned about the fact this has been such a mild and warm winter, so we could have really high Aedes aegypti numbers in south Texas cities such as Houston, Galveston, Corpus Christi, and San Antonio.”

Hotez cautioned these cities “now represent major hotspots for potential Zika transmission in 2017.”

State health officials continue to urge all Texans to protect themselves at home and in areas where Zika spreads. In addition to using mosquito repellant, they recommend wearing long sleeves and pants outdoors, turning on air conditioning, ensuring window screens are in good shape, and dumping out containers that might hold standing water around the house to thwart mosquito breeding grounds.

Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.

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