Texas health officials are working to get ahead of the Zika virus before it begins to spread locally. So far, 93 cases of the Zika virus have been reported in the Lone Star State, all of them contracted in other countries.
Now, with local transmission of the virus in Florida, thousands of athletes traveling to Brazil for the Olympics and the middle of Texas' mosquito season, health professionals are looking for ways to prevent Zika from spreading any further through the population.
“Will it spread more? Probably,” said Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Service Dr. John Hellerstedt. But it doesn't have to.
Hellerstedt said a few simple steps can keep people from becoming infected.
“The things we can do right now about insect repellent, getting rid of standing water where we live, using screens and air conditioning and long clothing, those are really the same things we would do if it was here. So the more that we start doing those things now before it's here, the better the chance that it will never get here,” Hellerstedt said.
To make insect repellent more accessible for those who may not be able to afford it on their own, Texas Medicaid has agreed to cover two cans per month for women between the ages of 10 and 45 or women who are pregnant.
“I personally think that of all the things that we have that can help protect the population from Zika, that insect repellent is absolutely at the top of my list and the reason is, it's very easy, it works and anything we can do to keep mosquitoes from biting us would limit the possibility that Zika would get here in the first place and stay here if it got here,” said Hellerstedt.
Women who are eligible can have their doctor call in a prescription to their pharmacy. They can begin picking up the repellent on August 9 and continue to have the repellent covered until the end of October.
“We wanted to be proactive and we wanted to absolutely give every chance we could to protect the next generation of Texans because this is really about birth defects and protecting that unborn generation from harm,” Hellerstedt said.
A mother with the Zika virus can give birth to a child with microcephaly, meaning the baby is born with an abnormally small head and possibly brain damage. That's why pregnant women need to take the most precautions. As people travel to areas like Latin America and the Caribbean, where Zika is much more common, the risk of exposure here in the U.S. is rising.
“The thing to remember about Zika is it's transmitted by mosquitoes, but it's spread by people. So, it's really infected people traveling from one area where they acquired it to another area where it doesn't exist yet. That's what infects that next area,” said Hellerstedt.
Women in programs including Medicaid, CHIP, CHIP-Perinate, Healthy Texas Women, Family Planning and Children with Special Healthcare Needs will be covered for insect repellent next week.
There are also more than a dozen cases of the disease being sexually transmitted.