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Texas Requests Help on Zika Virus

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Fearing a recurrence of the havoc caused by the mosquito-borne West Nile virus in 2012, the state's top elected officials are urging federal funding to help Texas in combating the Zika virus.

In a letter dated June 6 to President Obama and the state's congressional delegation, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) and Senate Health and Human Services Chair Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) urged "a coordinated federal, state and local response... to effectively combat the spread of the Zika virus." Specifically, the letter requests "the timely receipt of federal funds to mitigate this devastating public health threat."

As of June 27, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services, the state had reported 47 cases of the Zika virus. All but one contracted the disease while traveling abroad and were diagnosed upon arriving home. The only locally sourced transmission of the virus occurred when a Dallas County resident had sexual contact with someone who had been infected with Zika while out of the country. One of the ailing travelers was a pregnant woman. Below is the latest Zika case data for Texas by county:

A mosquito-borne virus, Zika has spread like wildfire throughout Latin America and the Caribbean since its appearance in 2015. The latest outbreak is the largest on record. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), between 500,000 and 1.5 million people in Brazil alone have been infected. Over 3,500 cases of microcephaly, a medical condition linked to Zika affecting brain and skull development in newborns and toddlers, have been reported in Brazil between October 2015 and January 2016. By the end of the year the agency forecasts that up to 4 million people in the western hemisphere could suffer from the disease.

Mosquito-borne tropical diseases like Zika, West Nile and even Dengue fever (two outbreaks in Houston and Brownsville have occurred since 2005) could pose significant problems for state residents this summer. The wet spring and widespread flooding across Texas earlier this year established very favorable conditions for the proliferation of mosquito species that carry these debilitating viruses.

One area that could be particularly hard hit is San Antonio, the state's second largest city, which lacks a mosquito-control district. According to Texas A&M professor Dr. Megan Wise de Valdez, San Antonio currently "has two (spraying) trucks for a city of 1.2 million."  Also, poverty-stricken Texans are at a greater risk than the rest of the state's population since they are less likely to have air conditioning or window screens that  deter mosquitoes from entering homes.

Emergency funding at the federal level to combat Zika is at an impasse due to appropriation squabbles between the Senate and the House. Negotiators will have to reconcile the Senate proposal of $1.1 billion and the House plan allotting $622 million ransacked from previously funded programs. Both proposals fall well short of the $1.9 billion the Obama administration has recommended to tackle the health crisis. The Senate-House conference committee reconciling the bills won't take place until after the 4th of July recess.

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