Federal Funding Could Help Zika Preparedness Across the State

“My big worry without that extra funding is that Zika could be popping up in multiple places on the Gulf coast in Texas, and it’s being missed.”

By Rhonda FanningAugust 8, 2016 9:43 am,

The Zika virus will be front and center as public health officials meet in Austin on Monday to discuss infectious disease preparedness in the state. Besides funding issues, though, pockets of high uninsured rates in Texas could make monitoring for the mosquito-transmitted virus more complicated.

Texas has the highest number of uninsured residents in the country, and this complicates an issue Texas could be dealing with in the near future: possible local transmission of the Zika virus. Texas Health Commissioner John Hellerstedt admits it’s something to worry about.

“That’s a problem, that’s been a problem before Zika, and it will probably still be a problem after Zika. Yes, access to care does play a role in this,” Hellerstedt said.

The Zika virus is already a complicated virus to deal with. In most people, the symptoms are mild. According to the CDC, common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes – pretty common stuff. But if you are pregnant, it’s more serious.

Zika has been linked to hundreds of babies born with microcephaly, including one here in Texas. Dr. Peter Hotez, the Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, said those mild symptoms make learning the scope of the virus pretty difficult.

“Many of these diseases could be very subtle and easily overlooked. People might not recognize a fever and a rash to being associated with Zika or Dengue,” Hotez said. “So it really [calls] for going into area clinics, community clinics, and actively sampling people who could have these diseases to see how widely prevalent they are.”

People are less likely to seek help at a clinic if they don’t have insurance, especially if the symptoms are mild. That’s why Hotez said the state would probably need to spend money doing more active surveillance for the virus –  especially in places like the Rio Grande Valley, which is considered vulnerable to mosquito-borne illnesses and has some of the highest uninsured rates in the state. Hotez said surveillance in places like that isn’t complicated, but they are “labor-extensive.”

“And because you have to bring in a lot of people to help you do it, it becomes an expense,” he said. “That’s why the federal funds are so urgently needed. So my big worry without that extra funding is that Zika could be popping up in multiple places on the Gulf coast in Texas, and it’s being missed.”

Read more of the KUT story.

Federal funding will be an integral part of controlling Zika in Texas. But getting the funding may be easier said than done. Congress left Washington last month for a seven-week recess without passing legislation that would have provided additional funding to combat the virus. There is now a growing chorus – led in part by Senate Democrats – arguing that the recess should be canceled in order to pass Zika legislation.

Jamie Lovegrove, Washington correspondent for the Dallas Morning News, tells the Standard that now Texas Republicans are also asking the Obama administration to step up their efforts. They’re requesting more transparency about the administration’s use of the $589 million that it repurposed from other areas of the budget in April.

“About $510 million of those funds were pulled from resources previously allocated to combat Ebola. But the Texans point to recent reports that $385 million of that money remains unspent,” Lovegrove reported in an Aug. 5 article.

What you’ll hear in this segment:

– Why there’s a funding gridlock for Zika prevention

– Will Congress cancel the recess to take up the funding legislation?

– Where the funding would come from

– Is there a backup plan for funding control of other diseases, like Ebola?