TX Lawmakers Respond to State’s First Zika-Related Death

El Paso News

Texas Department of State Health Services confirmed Tuesday morning that the recent death of a newborn baby girl in Harris County is directly related to the Zika virus.

State health officials said the infant was born several weeks ago with Microcephaly, a condition caused by the Zika virus, in which a child’s head is abnormally small.

“This is a travel-associated death,” Dr. Umair A. Shah, Executive Director of Harris County Public Health said during a press conference on Tuesday. “Again, a very difficult time for both the mother and the family, as you can imagine.”

Shah said the baby’s mother likely contracted the virus when she traveled to Latin America during her pregnancy.

“She was in El Salvador, and my understanding is she is from El Salvador traveling here to Harris County,” Shah said, “but I can’t give you anything more cause I don’t have those details, but to tell you that she came to Harris County in her second trimester.”

As of Tuesday morning, Texas had 99 reported cases of Zika, including two infants with Microcephaly in Harris County. So far, there have been no reported cases of Zika transmitted by mosquitoes in Texas. State health officials said they are on high alert for the possibility of local transmission.

“Clearly, everything that they’re doing in Florida would be replicated here, if we had an outbreak,” Judge Ed Emmett of Harris County said. “Hopefully, we don’t have a local transmission. But, if we do, all the resources of all levels of government will turn to it and be treated like any other emergency.”

State lawmakers have made the fight against Zika a top priority, amid rising concerns of a local outbreak. Earlier this year, the Obama administration set aside $374 million to fight the virus.

In a letter to Texas lawmakers on Tuesday, federal health officials confirmed that the state has already received $38 million over the course of this year specifically for Zika response efforts.

The letter comes in response to U.S. Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who accused the Obama administration for not using a majority of the Zika funding that had initially been set aside.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell rejected the accusation on Tuesday. Burwell warned the Texas senators that the $374 million budget is “quickly running out”.

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