Research has linked the Zika virus to microcephaly, a birth defect that causes incomplete brain development. U.S. health officials addressed Senate panels on Thursday to discuss the need for additional funding to counter the virus. An emergency $1.8 billion fund is required to help protect pregnant women from contracting the Zika virus.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Tom Frieden asked lawmakers to provide the new funds for preventative efforts against the virus. Frieden urged Senate members to approve additional funds rather than take the money away from efforts to counter Ebola. The CDCP director explained that the Ebola virus has still not been eradicated and is still very much a threat. The virus has been contained after a massive Ebola outbreak in West Africa back in 2014, but it has not been eliminated yet.
According to Frieden, relocating Ebola funds to prevent the spread of the Zika virus would be a risky strategy. Republican congress representatives are pressuring the Obama administration to use existing Ebola funds rather than provide additional money for Zika virus prevention. However, Frieden explained that CDC health programs around the world have performed 10.000 Ebola tests last month and that the virus is still very much a threat.
A Senate appropriations subcommittee listened to Frieden’s testimonial. He explained the risks involved with underestimating the virus. According to Frieden, unused Ebola funds are already being relocated to other critical activities.
President Obama has already announced that he would be seeking additional emergency funding from Congress. The Zika virus can be combated by implementing programs for vaccine development, mosquito control, and public education programs. Improving the health care of low-income pregnant women can also help prevent Zika infections.
The president’s request included $335 million destined to foreign aid campaigns in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. The virus is currently spreading the fastest in these areas. The World Health Organization declared that the Zika virus is an international public health emergency. The announcement came last week when WHO explained that there is a strong suspicion of the virus being responsible for cluster cases of microcephaly.
The Zika virus is most commonly transmitted through mosquito bites. It causes incomplete brain development and abnormally small heads in newborn babies if the mothers become infected. Legislation introduced on Tuesday by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., permits the use of remaining Ebola funds towards Zika prevention. As of September, $3 billion was left in the Ebola fund established two years ago to help counter the South African outbreak.
The new bill would lift restrictions on the remaining funds. The administration could use them for preparedness and response programs meant to counter the spread of the Zika virus. Similar legislation has been brought up in the House by Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah.
Anthony Fauci addressed the issue in his capacity as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. Fauci stated that he NIH has already started taking the first steps towards developing a vaccine for the Zika virus. He has explained that emergency funding from Congress will be crucial in allowing the NIH to continue its activity. While preparations are being made to create a vaccine, there is insufficient research into preventative measures for the Zika virus so far.
Both Frieden and Fauci addressed the appropriations panel on Thursday. They asked for emergency funding for Zika prevention efforts. In the meantime, Sylvia Burwell, the Health and Human Services Secretary, addressed the Senate Finance Committee asking for the additional funds. Burwell also stated that redirecting Ebola funds toward Zika virus preventative efforts is not a viable option and that extra funding is required instead.
Frieden, Fauci, and Burwell’s opinions were shared by Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland. Mikulski, who is the senior Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, has also urged her colleagues to approve the additional Zika prevention funding. She went on to explain that the misconception regarding health officials’ ability to move significant funds around should be countered. According to Mikulski, it is impossible for health authorities to come up with the much needed Zika funds on their own.
Fauci and Frieden also went on to state that both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases are already being forced to divert existing funds from other infectious diseases towards Zika prevention efforts. Frieden explained that the CDC was recently obligated to transfer 300 staff members to Puerto Rico. The CDC employees, who had been working on Dengue fever prevention efforts up until that point, were needed in Puerto Rico to help counter the rapid spread of the Zika virus in the area.
The Zika virus has recently been linked to a massive increase in microcephaly cases in certain areas. The rising number of diagnosed microcephaly cases in some regions has prompted health authorities to take preventative efforts against the spread of the virus. Affected areas include Central America, South America and the Caribbean. Health officials in the United States have confirmed a case of microcephaly in a baby born in Hawaii in January. The baby’s mother had travelled to Brazil earlier last year while pregnant.
As of this moment, the official CDC website has confirmed 52 travel-associated cases of Zika virus infections. If you are pregnant at the moment, you should avoid travelling to areas with active mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission. However, if you do have to travel to such an area, you should take precautionary measures to avoid contracting the virus.
The CDC advises travelers to reduce the risk of exposure to infected mosquitoes by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants. It is also recommended that you stay indoors, particularly in places that air conditioning as well as door and window panels to protect you from mosquitoes. You should use EPA-approved insect repellents that have been deemed safe for pregnant women. The CDC also recommends protecting children travelling with you by taking the same precautionary measures. You can find more information about the preventative measures you can take by going on the official CDC website and following the instructions listed there.