Texas officials say they are on high alert, concerned that Zika transmission by local mosquitoes is imminent, largely in response to the outbreak in Florida. On Wednesday, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) urged all Texans to follow public health prevention guidelines, especially pregnant women whose unborn babies are most at risk when infected with Zika.
“It’s the perfect mix – local transmission in Florida, travel to Brazil, and we’re at the height of mosquito season in Texas,” said Dr. John Hellerstedt, Texas DSHS commissioner in a news release. “Local transmission here is likely at some point.”
Breitbart News reported the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned Americans this week not to travel to a Miami neighborhood for fear of catching the locally transmitted mosquito-borne Zika. This development, coupled with increased travel to Brazil for the Summer Olympics, concerns Texas health officials.
Texas continues to roll out its statewide preparations to forestall or lessen the severity of Zika when and if it becomes local statewide. In February, Breitbart Texas reported DSHS officials feared a “transmission cycle” could happen in Texas as has now occurred in Florida especially because Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that carry Zika are native to Texas.
“The good news is that Texas is ready,” stated Hellerstedt. “If Texas has local transmission, we’ll quickly announce it and describe the area of potential risk for Texans.” He added: “We’re working in lockstep with our local and federal partners to ensure a strong Texas response.”
Local Zika transmission remains likely in Texas, although public health officials do not expect widespread transmission across large geographic areas of the state. Instead, they anticipate small pockets of cases similar to the state’s past experiences with Dengue Fever, a similar virus spread by the same mosquito species.
In addition to the state’s ongoing mosquito abatement efforts, public health officials urge Texans to follow simple precautions to protect themselves from mosquito bites such as using EPA-approved insect repellent, wearing loose fitting clothes, using screens on windows and doors, and removing standing water around the home to avoid attracting mosquitoes.
To date, Texas reported 93 cases of Zika, all of which were contracted through travel abroad to regions with active mosquito-borne Zika transmission. No local transmission through mosquito bite has been detected yet in Texas.
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 other efforts. Tuesday, the CDC awarded the state another $720,000 to fight the disease through research.
While most who contract Zika only experience short-term mild flu-like symptoms, pregnant women and unborn babies are most vulnerable to birth defects like microcephaly, the congenital birth defect where a newborn’s head and brain do not fully form. The CDC lists other poor Zika-linked pregnancy outcomes including miscarriages and stillbirths, and babies born with other possible types of brain damage and congenital deformities.
As of July 29, Texas reported 42 pregnant women to the CDC’s Zika Pregnancy Registry. That number reflected three pregnant women confirmed with Zika. It also included other pregnant women and any newborns who tested positive for the virus but showed no symptoms or the symptoms they exhibited could not be specifically identified as Zika by health professions.
Texas Medicaid announced it will cover the costs of up to two cans of mosquito repellent per month through October 31 for eligible women between the ages of 10 and 45 or pregnant. To receive the free mosquito repellent, eligible women must be enrolled Medicaid, CHIP, CHIP-Perinate, Healthy Texas Women, or the Family Planning program. A doctor must prescribe the repellent and it must be picked up at a pharmacy.
Children’s Hospital Pavilion for Women in Houston now houses a new Zika clinic for pregnant women at risk for contracting the disease.
“The best way to protect yourself from Zika is by avoiding mosquito bites,” said Texas Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Charles Smith. “There is currently no vaccine to prevent the disease or drug to treat it, making it essential that people use mosquito repellent to protect women and unborn babies.”
Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.