CDC Awards Texas $10M to Fight Zika

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) awarded nearly $10 million to the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston to study emerging and exotic pathogens such as Zika. This announcement came as Texas reported its sixth locally-transmitted case of the virus.

“Zika continues to be a threat to pregnant women,” said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden in a press release Thursday. “States, territories, and communities need this CDC funding to fight Zika and protect the next generation of Americans.”

The award is part of $184 million in federal funds the CDC allocated to states, territories, local jurisdictions, and universities to combat Zika and other viruses plus associated health outcomes like microcephaly, the abnormality that affects a baby’s brain in utero. These federal dollars come from a larger $350 million package provided to the CDC under the Zika Response and Preparedness Appropriations Act of 2016.

The CDC divvied up $40 million of the current allocation among four vector-borne disease regional centers of excellence: UTMB, the University of Florida, the University of Wisconsin, and Cornell University.

UTMB officials said they will release the details of how the monies will be used in the coming weeks, according to the Galveston County Daily News. The university’s medical branch is internationally known for infectious disease research, including its Galveston National Laboratory. It is one of two Biosafety Level 4 labs in the nation.

The CDC announcement came as the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) reported the sixth locally-transmitted Zika case in the border city of Brownsville, the southern-most U.S. municipality located directly across from Matamoros, Tamaulipas, a city at the center of a fierce cartel war.

Texas became the second state to experience a “transmission cycle,” meaning native mosquitoes get infected and spread Zika through their bites. In February, DSHS officials first expressed concern this would happen because the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that carry Zika are indigenous to the state. Brownsville reported its first local mosquito-borne case in late November. Since then, the CDC issued a travel warning to the border city after five individuals contracted Zika through area mosquitoes.

DSHS Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt does not believe the virus will become widespread in Texas, although he anticipates more cases, especially in the areas that stay relatively warm in the fall and winter. “When the weather warms up again next year, it will pick up again, at least where it left off, and potentially go from there,” he said according to Courthouse News Service.

However, tropical medicine expert Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine, foresees more widespread Zika transmission in 2017. He wrote: “Indeed we have to be alert for the likelihood that Zika transmission will become widespread next summer as Aedes aegypti populations predictably rise again.”

Texas spent most of 2016 on high alert for a “transmission cycle.” By August, while Florida underwent such a cycle, Hellerstedt, also the director of the governor’s task force on infectious disease, said local transmission was imminent. In addition to the state’s ongoing mosquito abatement efforts, the DSHS urged Texans to follow public health prevention guidelines, most notably, pregnant women whose unborn babies are most at-risk for birth defects like microcephaly if infected with Zika. Texas Medicaid offered free cans of mosquito repellent to eligible women ages 10 to 45 or pregnant through the end of October. Public health officials reinstated this program once Cameron County officials reported the first mosquito-borne Zika case in Brownsville.

As of December 21, the CDC accounted for 4,756 Zika cases nationwide. Of the 216 individuals who acquired the virus via local mosquitoes 210 are in Florida, six in Texas. All other instances were travel-associated, including the 38 sexually transmitted cases. The DSHS last reported 283 Texas Zika cases as of December 16. That total included five of the six Cameron County cases.

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


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