Combatting the Zika Virus With Real Urgency
As people plan for the summer, there are new concerns that travel could expose their families to a new uncertain danger – the Zika virus.
Before the outbreak across Brazil made headlines last May, there was little public awareness of Zika. Since then, the World Health Organization has declared the virus and complications arising from it an international public health emergency. Zika is primarily spread by mosquitos, and has hit South America and the Caribbean with a vengeance this year.
Now the Zika virus has made its way to the United States.
The type of mosquito that carries Zika is the same that carries yellow fever and dengue, and is the dominant species of mosquito found in the Western, Southern and mid-Atlantic U.S.
Typically, those who contract Zika experience only mild symptoms if any – fever, joint pain or rashes – but the effects have the potential to be long lasting, especially for pregnant women who contract Zika. The virus can lead to microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads and brain development issues. And we still don’t know exactly what longterm effects and health problems this will cause for both the babies and their mothers.
Right now, the vast majority of cases in the continental United States have come from women who have traveled abroad. In the U.S., Zika has infected more than 800 across 45 states, districts and territories, including 89 women who are pregnant. With summer travel both in the United States and abroad, the risk for the spread of Zika here will only increase. This will soon be a public health emergency – not just abroad – but also here at home, and emergency funding is desperately needed.
First we need to infuse our public health systems with the resources to combat Zika. We need to accelerate research and development into a vaccine. Second, we have to develop better diagnostic tests to detect the virus, and increase research about the virus itself. Third, we need to educate health care providers, like primary care physicians and hospitals, pregnant women and families, about the virus and prevention methods. Finally, we step up our efforts at surveillance and control of the mosquito population to staunch the spread of the virus here at home.
Ironically enough, these are many of the same issues we faced with Ebola only a couple of years ago. We clearly have not learned our lesson.
In February of this year, the Obama Administration requested Congress to act, and act quickly. The Administration sought $1.9 billion to speed up our efforts to fight Zika and to try to stay ahead of the dangerous disease. And since then, the World Health Organization has confirmed that there is “a strong scientific consensus that the Zika virus is a cause of microcephaly and other poor pregnancy outcomes, Guillain-Barré Syndrome, and other neurological disorders.”
Two months since the request, the majority in Congress has refused to act and the virus has begun to spread quickly in American territories – Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa. A baby has been born in Hawaii with Zika-related microcephaly and many more cases are under investigation.
Faced with this dire public health emergency and a lack of Congressional action, the Administration identified some funding – including $510 million of existing Ebola funding – that can be used to fight Zika. But this infusion will not be sufficient to fully combat the disease and takes away from our commitment to continue fighting Ebola.
Ultimately, this new funding will have to be appropriated to fight Zika, and we cannot continue to rob Peter to pay Paul when the consequences are so dire. This is not a time for partisan politics, and it is my hope that Congress will soon pass this emergency funding.
Rep. Adam Schiff represents California’s 28th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.