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Health & Science

Houston Politicians Plead For Congress To Approve Zika Funding Quickly

Officials say they would use the money to clean up potential breeding sites, expand mosquito surveillance, and conduct door-to-door educational campaigns.

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Turner and Lee
Carrie Feibel
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee speak out for federal Zika funding at St. Joseph Medical Center in downtown Houston.

Houston politicians and public health officials are urging Congress to pass an emergency funding measure to fight the Zika virus, before adjourning for the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

Three months ago, President Obama requested $1.9 billion to combat Zika. The Senate is proposing $1.1 billion, and the House has approved even less.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner joined Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee on Monday, at a press conference at St. Joseph Medical Center in downtown Houston.

"I will simply tell you that's not enough," Turner said. "That $660 million being proposed by the House is woefully inadequate."

(The House bill is actually for $622 million.)

After the "Tax Day" floods hit Houston on April 18, the city worked extra quickly to clean up debris that could act as mosquito breeding sites, Turner said. But they had to use outside contractors to finish in just two weeks.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee said there's still stagnant water collecting at illegal dump sites in low-income neighborhoods, and in trash-clogged ditches.

"Urban mayors have said in this region that they need money for cleanup," Lee said. "That's what we're going to fight for, (to remove) sitting water and tires. We've indicated that to the Centers for Disease Control.""

City health workers have already knocked on the doors of 8,000 homes in Houston, handing out DEET and educating residents, according Houston's medical director, Dr. David Persse.

But with federal funds, the city could do better outreach, and contact many more people.

"I want us to understand that we are different from Central America and the Caribbean, in that they didn't see this coming. There was no way they could see this coming," Persse said forcefully.

"We've got advance notice. We have no excuse to be unprepared, we have no excuse," he said.

Texas has 36 confirmed cases of Zika, 13 of those in Harris County. Of those, 35 were patients travelers infected abroad, who later returned home to Texas. One of the cases involved a Dallas County resident who had sexual contact with someone who acquired Zika while traveling.

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