Editorials

Is Texas ready for a Zika outbreak?

THE EDITORIAL BOARD

Carlos Varas, a Miami-Dade County mosquito inspector, sprays around homes in the Wynwood area of Miami on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016, as 14 cases of Zika have been found in the area.
Carlos Varas, a Miami-Dade County mosquito inspector, sprays around homes in the Wynwood area of Miami on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016, as 14 cases of Zika have been found in the area. Miami Herald/TNS

Ready or not, it’s here.

Officials in Florida confirmed late last week that mosquitoes in the Miami area are carrying the Zika virus and have infected a rapidly growing number of Floridians.

This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took the unprecedented step of issuing a travel warning for pregnant women and their partners, urging them to avoid the community near downtown Miami where Zika has been active and spreading.

Announcing the outbreak in his state, Florida Gov. Rick Scott reminded listeners that “this is not just a Florida issue. It’s a national issue — we just happen to be at the forefront.”

And Texas could be next.

In 2014, Texas was at the epicenter of the hysteria over Ebola, after two nurses were the first in the U.S. to contract the deadly virus from a patient in Dallas.

The state and federal governments reacted — some might say overreacted — throwing millions of dollars into prevention and mitigation when, as some experts argued, the threat of a pandemic seemed unlikely.

Zika is entirely different in that regard: It’s far more likely to affect a wide swath of the population, but it hasn’t received nearly as much in the way of preventive resources.

That’s at least in part because, for partisan reasons, federal funding has been stalled in Congress for months.

Texas will receive $720,000 for research as part of a grant from the CDC.

And this week, state officials announced they will allow Medicaid to pay for mosquito repellent for eligible women in an effort to prevent the spread of the disease.

The good news is that for most people Zika is a rather benign virus with mild symptoms and minimal effects.

We also know how Zika is transmitted — through mosquito bites, sex and blood transfusions — incidents or activities over which we have relative control.

It can also be passed from a pregnant mother to her fetus.

Therein lies the bad news: Zika has been linked to a condition called microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with abnormally small brains and skulls.

Texas is a state that cares a great deal about the unborn, so protecting at-risk women should be a top priority.

Despite the outbreak in Florida, Texas health officials are confident that the state’s efforts, which have mostly focused on education, will continue to be part of what Gov. Greg Abbott’s office called “the strongest possible response” to local transmission.

Unfortunately, we won’t know if such preventive efforts are enough until Zika is upon us.

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