Texas Wants Federal|Money to Fight Zika

     AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Citing 40 Zika cases already reported in Texas, dozens of state congressmen have asked President Obama for federal money to help fight the virus.
     In a Monday letter to the president, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said a review of Texas’s preparation and response to the Zika virus “painted a grim picture of the potentially devastating effects” of the disease, especially on pregnant women and their unborn children.
     Thirty-four Texas congressmen signed the letter, as did both its U.S. senators, the governor, and three state senators.
     The letter was prompted by a recent hearing in the Texas Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee, which looked at the incidence of Zika, modes of transmission, prevention strategies and local mosquito control programs.
     Patrick said that while the state has developed a Zika plan and is working with local health departments, all levels of government need to work together to prevent the virus’ spread.
     “There should be a coordinated federal, state and local response, including a comprehensive communications plan to inform the public and the health care community about this devastating disease, enhanced surveillance and laboratory capacity, and coordinated identification and notification efforts for those who are infected,” Patrick wrote.
     He said the state’s ability to fight Zika is “hampered by the uncertainty of federal funding.” Texas’ Public Health Emergency Preparedness division recently had its federal funds cut by $3.6 million.
     Also, the onset of mosquito season means that waiting for federal money until the end of summer will be too late. “States and local health departments need the assistance now,” Patrick wrote.
     He said persistent flooding in Texas and hot summer weather makes the state more susceptible to Zika than most of other states.
     The Centers for Disease Control says the Zika virus, discovered in 1947, is spread to people primarily through bites from an infected Aedes mosquito. It also can be spread through sexual contact and blood transfusion.
     Zika is rarely fatal and people usually do not need hospitalization for it. The most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis, with the typically mild symptoms lasting for several days to a week.
     But if a woman is infected by the Zika virus during pregnancy, it may cause her child to be born with microcephaly, an abnormally small head, and other fetal brain defects.
     Patrick’s office told Courthouse News Texas is asking for a $1.5 million federal grant from the Centers for Disease Control to fight Zika. The Texas Department of Health said in late May that it had earmarked $2 million in federal grant money for a public information campaign. A spokesman for Patrick’s office said he did not know how much state money Texas was spending on Zika.
     Of the 40 confirmed cases of Zika in Texas, 39 were travelers who were infected abroad, including one pregnant woman. One case involved a Texas resident who had sexual contact with someone who acquired Zika abroad. The most cases in a single county — 13 of them — were reported in Harris County, home to Houston, followed by six each in Dallas County and Bexar County, home of San Antonio.

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