With Zika on the rise both in the United States and abroad, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention responded this summer with a series of grants to specific states and counties to increase public awareness and track possible birth defects, specifically microcephaly.
Zika is a disease that manifests in symptoms such as fever, rash and joint pain. There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika, and many who are infected do not show symptoms. Zika is transmitted mostly through mosquito bites but can also be spread to a sexual partner.
According to Chris Van Deusen, spokesperson for the Texas Department of State Health Services, the state has received about $6 million in federal aid to fight Zika.
Babies born to mothers who have contracted Zika are at risk for microcephaly, a birth defect that affects a baby’s brain size. One of the grants from the CDC provides money to better combat this issue, according to Van Deusen.
“We look into hospital records and look for birth defects,” Van Deusen said. “[The grant] will enhance our ability to do this much more quickly.”
Van Deusen said the largest portion of the money went to a public awareness campaign dedicated to helping citizens protect themselves from mosquitoes that could carry Zika.
“It’s important they know how to protect themselves, particularly for travelers, pregnant women and people who work outdoors who are at a greater risk,” Van Deusen said.
Van Deusen also said that some federal money went toward increasing lab capacity for Zika testing and training local departments for appropriate Zika outbreak responses.
If a major outbreak of Zika occurred in Texas, Van Deusen said, the State would need more money to handle the situation.
“We’re certainly still planning and making all the preparation we can,” Van Deusen said. “We know that’s a real possibility here. If there is a local case or multiple local cases, we would need some additional resources to respond to that.”
According to Carole Barasch, spokesperson for the Travis County Health and Human Services Department, the county didn’t receive any direct funding from the federal level or state level.
“Our department has not received any Zika dedicated funds from the Texas Department of State Health Services nor the CDC,” Barasch said in an email.
Three people have tested positive for Zika virus in Austin and Travis County.
“We anticipate that local transmission of Zika virus may also occur in Austin/Travis County,” said Shannon Jones, director of the Travis County Health and Human Services Department, in a statement. “We do not think that it will be as widespread as has been seen in Brazil and Central and South America. Because of very different living conditions, including screened-in homes, air conditioning, and less crowded housing, we anticipate that if we see local transmission, it may be in small, clustered areas.”
At UT, the focus surrounding Zika remains on raising awareness about how students and faculty can avoid contracting the disease, especially for students who travel abroad.
“We provide travel counseling for students who travel abroad,” said Susan Hochman, spokesperson for University Health Services. “But prevention is not just for traveling abroad. It’s about protecting themselves, as well as protecting other people.”
Hochman said students who travel abroad must keep in mind that protecting those around them is key, which is especially important since many who contract Zika do not show symptoms and therefore do not realize they have the illness.
“Whether it’s a sexual partner or if you brought back Zika and then got bit by more mosquitoes, it’s about protecting others,” Hochman said. “If you come back from a Zika-infected area, protection is still important when you return.”