Three more pregnant women, all from Houston, have tested positive for the Zika virus, the Legacy Community Health clinic announced Thursday.
Two of the women had recently traveled to El Salvador and one to Brazil, where Zika has become enough of a threat that officials have urged pregnant women to not even attend the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. These three cases are in addition to a pregnant woman from Fort Bend County who tested positive at Legacy in March, making her the first expectant mother in the region to contract Zika.
While for most people Zika means coming down with irritating flu-like symptoms for several days, for pregnant women, the virus has been confirmed to cause a birth defect called microcephaly in newborn babies, causing them to be born with abnormally small heads.
"They're anxious," Kevin Nix, a Legacy spokesman, said of these three pregnant women. "We see over 200 pregnant women a day at our southwest clinic, and there's an increasing anxiety among all of our patients."
As of June 29, the City of Houston had 11 confirmed Zika cases, and a Harris County Health Department spokeswoman said the surrounding areas in the county have seven confirmed cases. Last month, Mayor Sylvester Turner asked Governor Greg Abbott to label Zika a public health emergency. That way, Turner said, the city could access millions of dollars in already-available funds that could go toward prevention. Nothing has yet materialized.
On the national level, Senate Democrats killed a bill last week that would have opened up $1.1 billion in Zika funding.
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"While Congress continues to play partisan games with public health, more pregnant patients have been infected with Zika,” Katy Caldwell, CEO of Legacy Community Health, said in a statement. “I’m not sure how much louder the alarm bells need to ring for both parties to hurry up and reach a funding deal."
If Congress does not pass a bill before the session ends for August recess, then gathering the necessary funding to fight the spread of Zika may turn into a waiting game.
For pregnant women, they'll have to wait anyway: Once a pregnant woman comes down with Zika, there is little doctors can do other than frequently monitor the baby with ultrasounds once a month to see if he or she is developing normally, Nix said. The odds that her baby will be healthy depend on the trimester during which the woman contracted the virus — if in the first trimester, there is about a 13 percent chance, the Washington Post reported.
The Fort Bend County woman had her baby this summer, Nix said, and everything turned out okay.