Zika mosquitoes don’t take vacations. Congress does.

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Material to prevent Zika infection by mosquitoes are displayed at the 69th World Health Assembly at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Congress is in recess for a seven-week paid summer vacation.  The House vacation schedule is here.  The Senate schedule is here. (Nice work if you can get it!)  And no, it did not provide any funding to help state and local health departments combat Zika through mosquito testing and control, and they did not provide funding for research to develop treatments and preventive measures such as vaccines.  You can read about the partisan battles that led to this stalemate here.  Recall that President Obama first sought funding for Zika in February.

 

To date there are 346 pregnant women in the continental United States with  laboratory evidence of a Zika virus infection and 303 pregnant women in United States territories with evidence of infection. You can get more information here. Zika is linked to the birth of babies with microcephaly, which mean they have smaller than normal heads and often poor brain development including developmental delays, intellectual disabilities, seizures, hearing loss, and vision problems. 

 

To date,  nearly all cases of Zika in the United States have been linked to travel to regions with active cases, the vast majority transmitted by mosquito bites and 14 through sexual transmission.  Now comes word that Florida officials are investigating a Miami case that is not travel related.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier announced it had begun to probe how a Utah resident who died in late June with a high viral load transmitted the virus through non-sexual contact to a family contact.  To do its work, the CDC is cannibalizing funds from other vital programs, including Ebola research-- and there continues to be flare ups of Ebola in Africa that must be halted if we are to prevent another severe epidemic.  Public health is about prevention, and prevention requires investment.

 

Aware of the risks, the CDC issued an interim Zika response plan in June, with advice about mosquito surveillance and control and a planning guide for the states.  The CDC also has a guide for building your own Zika prevention kit, which should include bed nets, standing water treatment kits, insect repellent, permethrin spray for clothing, and condoms. The Pennsylvania Health Department began distributing its own kits for pregnant women last week.

 

The CDC needs the funding to do more: to locate and halt outbreaks in conjunction with state and local health departments, to get the word out to pregnant women to avoid travel to areas with Zika and to avoid mosquito bites if they live in areas where the mosquito that transmits the virus is circulating -- and to develop an effective vaccine.

 

Let's hope the members of Congress pack a Zika kit when they head off to their summer vacations in parts of the United States where Zika-carrying mosquitoes are likely to be found. They'll need those kits, because shutting their own doors and turning out the lights won’t stop the disease from spreading. When they return in September, the prognosis will almost certainly be worse. 


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