Eight months after doctors first discovered the Zika virus in Harris County, the first Zika-related death— a baby girl — has been recorded here, Harris County Public Health announced Tuesday morning.
The newborn, who had several birth defects, including microcephaly, died shortly after birth. The health agency said the girl's mother had traveled to Latin America — a hotbed for Zika — while pregnant and became infected before returning to Texas. Her death comes a month after Harris County officials found the first case of microcephaly in a newborn, who survived.
"We are devastated to report our first case of Zika-associated death and our hearts go out to the family," Dr. Umair A. Shah, executive director of Harris County Public Health, said in a statement. "While this is a travel-associated case, we know that prevention is key to reducing the risk of Zika virus infection."
Ever since researchers in south Florida discovered the first U.S. outbreak in Zika there in late July, Houston health officials have warned that a similar outbreak is likely here. Summer is the highest-risk period for Zika along the Gulf Coast, officials said, because that is when heat and humidity peak.
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As of August 3, the Centers for Disease Control had reported 89 cases of Zika in Texas. Florida has a whopping 322. The CDC urges pregnant women to avoid Zika-affected areas.
Shah encouraged county residents to take precautions to avoid exposure to Zika, which is spread primarily by mosquitoes. Shah said everyone should wear EPA-registered insect repellent when outside.
The federal government gave Houston $1.5 million to fight Zika last month, though local officials hesitate to put a price tag on how expensive combating a Zika outbreak here would be.
In Harris County Public Health's statement Tuesday, County Judge Ed Emmett said local and state officials are monitoring the spread of Zika and "have plans in place to respond to any potential risks to public health."