State and local leaders spoke with area health officials in a conference call briefing Friday to discuss the spread of the virus and what is being done nationally to appropriate funding for city and county preparedness in the event of a local outbreak.
“One of our primary concerns, especially given all the rain we’ve had in Texas, is how people can protect their own property and how we can make that type of information available to a lot of the smaller surrounding areas,” Deputy City Manager Erik Walsh said during the briefing.
Humid temperatures and standing water provide ample breeding grounds for the larvae of the two types of mosquitoes here in Texas, Aedeus aegypti and Aedeus albopictus, that are most likely to transmit the virus once the mosquitoes have bitten infected humans.
As of Friday, there are currently seven active cases of Zika in San Antonio and there are 18 cases pending, according to the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District. All cases were contracted during international travel. No cases of mosquito-borne transmission have been reported in the U.S. to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at the time of publication.
City officials are working with a team of Metro Health employees that provides pest control services on public property through the Vector Control Program to target at-risk areas.
“From the City perspective, we are prepared and we do have the funding from the annual budget and we’ve got Vector staff on board,” interim Director of Metro Health Vincent Nathan said during the briefing. “Part of what the health department has been in discussions with other major Texas cities, the state, and the CDC for is what additional money may be available for additional surveillance and eradication.”
In May, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Zika Response Appropriations Act which would clear the way for more than $622 million* in funding for Zika prevention and response efforts.
If Congress approves the bill, recipients of the funding would include the CDC, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund within the Office of the Secretary.
However, some politicians are calling for increased funding, particularly for the CDC, which would only receive a fraction of the funding it requested.
“As top medical and public health experts have said, we are on the cusp of an epidemic. We should not panic, but we must prepare,” U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) stated in response to the briefing on Friday. “I will continue to advocate for the full $1.9 billion needed to fight the spread of Zika and help protect families in San Antonio. Given the threat of the Zika virus, especially to our region, it is inexcusable not to provide the resources needed to prevent, control, and cure this disease.”
Meanwhile, other representatives are calling for a different approach to funding.
“$80 million is available for local resources right now. This has a June 13 deadline for local municipalities to apply for those funds,” U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) said during the briefing. “We don’t know if we’ve even exhausted that $80 million while Congress is debating the final amount.”
Now is not the time to finger-point over partisan issues, Hurd said. Instead, he thinks people should collaborate and cooperate.
“Appropriators have made it very clear that there’s going to be support so that CDC has the right funds, but I want to make sure that the funds go as quickly as possible through the various state agencies and to the pointy end of the spears — those are the people at the City and the County level that are dealing with this.”
Metro Health recommends that people remove standing water nearby and inside their homes, wear insect repellant, and use air conditioning or screens on their windows to keep out mosquitoes.
Health officials are especially concerned about the spread of the virus to pregnant women and are warning women who are pregnant or may become pregnant, to take extra precautions. Microcephaly, a birth defect where the infant’s head and brain are abnormally small, has been linked to the Zika virus during pregnancy. The first microcephaly case in the U.S. was confirmed in New Jersey this week after a woman who became infected abroad while pregnant gave birth to a baby with the defect.
While Metro Health officials feel that they are adequately prepared amid the growing threat of Zika, questions still remain in regards to the preparedness of poorer counties in South Texas and whether counties with fewer resources should be given higher priority. These areas are also at a greater risk of the virus spreading due to their coastal proximity and lack of access to reproductive health care.
Click here to view Metro Health's Zika fact sheet
*CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that the bill would provide $1.2 billion in funding for Zika prevention and response efforts. This is incorrect because $622 million of the $1.2 billion would be funding appropriated specifically for Zika response. The remaining funding would be from state and national emergency funds.
Top image: Standing water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Photo by Scott Ball.