In a continuing effort to delay local Zika transmission by mosquitoes, Texas is convening a statewide Zika summit of local leaders to create response plans and conduct drills. Meanwhile, the CDC is sending Texas more than $35 million in emergency preparedness funds to combat the spread of the virus.
Texas' daylong workshop, formally called the State of Texas Active Response to Zika (STARZ) Conference, will be Wednesday, July 6, at the McAllen Convention Center.
"It's a chance for us to sit down together to coordinate our plans in detail and exercise our actions before Zika is really here," said Dr. John Hellerstedt, Texas Department of State Health Services commissioner. "We expect to see some level of local transmission in the state, and Texas is at the forefront and ready."
In a statement released to the media, organizers said "the central element of the event will be two tabletop exercises in which leaders walk through and discuss how they would handle both the first confirmed local transmission of Zika in their jurisdictions and also sustained local transmission."
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Officials do expect local transmission of the virus to take place in Texas at some point, though they do not expect that transmission to be widespread -- small pockets in limited clusters are more likely due to the state's large geographic area, the prevalant use of window screens, air conditioning and insect repellent.
Texas has boosted its Zika public outreach campaign by $500,000, making it a $2.5 million campaign that will continue through the summer and will now include grassroots outreach in addition to educational materials, advertising, radio and news media. The website www.TexasZika.org launched in February and continues to be the anchor for the campaign and the source of official Texas public health information about Zika. More than 50,000 people visited the site in June.
To date, Texas has had 50 cases of Zika virus disease, including one confirmed case of Zika in a pregnant woman. All are related to travel abroad to areas with active Zika transmission with the exception of one case in Dallas that was believed to have been transmitted sexually. In addition, there have been 28 pregnant Texas residents with laboratory evidence of Zika infection but did not meet the case definition.
With its link to microcephaly, Zika poses a serious threat to unborn children. DSHS is working to educate women and families about how to protect themselves through its Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program and via healthcare providers. The Texas WIC program is seeking to distribute Zika prevention materials, including mosquito repellent, through its breastfeeding promotion kits. DSHS is working closely with other state agencies to emphasize precaution information to their specific audiences, such as schools, daycares and women's health programs.
"With the central goal of protecting unborn babies from Zika, we're doing everything we can to make sure everyone knows how to prevent it," said Dr. Hellerstedt. "If local transmission is suspected, our response will be fast and geared toward identifying actual risk and protecting Texans."
With the upcoming holiday weekend and other summer activities, state health officials urge everyone to follow precautions to protect themselves from mosquito bites:
- Dress in long sleeves, pants when outside: For extra protection, spray thin clothing with repellent.
- DEET: Make sure this ingredient is in your insect repellent.
- Drain standing water in your yard and neighborhood: Mosquitoes can develop in any water stagnant for more than three days.
It has been recommended in the past that to avoid mosquito bites you should avoid being outdoors during Dusk and Dawn (the 4 Ds). While this is true for mosquitoes that commonly carry the West Nile virus, other types of mosquitoes that are more likely to carry Zika, dengue and chikungunya are active during the day. When outdoors, no matter what time of day, adjust your dress accordingly and wear insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus as your first line of defense against insect bites.
The Zika Virus Preparedness and Response Plan has been posted to www.TexasZika.org under the Zika Response tab and describes what actions DSHS will take to successfully respond to Zika.
CDC Sends Texas More Than $35 Million for Zika Fight
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded $25 million in funding to states, cities, and territories to support efforts to protect Americans from Zika virus infection and associated illnesses.
The CDC gave Texas $1.5 million for public health preparedness and response (PHPR) and another $34 million for public health emergency preparedness (PHEP). According to the CDC, PHEP grants are given to "public health departments across the nation to upgrade their ability to effectively respond to a range of public health threats, including infectious diseases, natural disasters, and biological, chemical, nuclear, and radiological events."
"These CDC funds will enable states and territories to strengthen their Zika preparedness and response plans," said Stephen C. Redd, M.D. (RADM, USPHS), director of CDC's Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response. "Although the continental United States has not yet seen local transmission of the Zika virus, mosquito season is here, and states must continue to both work to prevent transmission and prepare for their first local case."
The CDC said a total of $25 million in fiscal year 2016 preparedness and response funding has been awarded to 53 state, city, and territorial health departments in areas at risk for outbreaks of Zika. The funding is effective July 1 and can be used through June 2017. All jurisdictions will have the funds by next week and selection of recipients was based on risk of local transmission and population.
In addition to the Zika-specific funding, the CDC said they've awarded $567.5 million in cooperative agreements to 62 public health departments across the country to improve and sustain emergency preparedness of state and local public health systems. Individual departments will receive funds ranging from $320,000 to $38 million. The Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) cooperative agreement funding supports all-hazards preparedness and is a critical source of funding and support for the nation's public health system. The PHEP program provides resources annually that are needed to ensure that local communities can respond effectively to infectious disease outbreaks, natural disasters, or chemical, biological, or radiological nuclear events.
The Obama Administration continues to press Congress for $1.9 billion its public health experts identified as necessary to combat Zika and protect the homeland. While the PHEP grants are an important tool to help communities prepare for and respond to public health emergencies, to expand mosquito control capabilities and develop a Zika vaccine and diagnostics, among other priorities, it requires resources beyond existing appropriations.