The mosquito that carries the Zika virus has a greater range than initially believed, transmission of the virus through sexual contact has become more common, and scientists conclude Zika poses a real danger to unborn children. For these reasons, the White House today announced it is moving $589 million in resources, including funds earmarked for Ebola, to address the emerging problem of Zika in the United States. In February, the President requested Congress approve an emergency appropriation of nearly $1.9 billion to respond to the threat. Appropriation Committee leaders denied the request and suggested the administration use unspent Ebola funds.
The redirected funds fall short of the President’s request, but will help launch a defense against the spread of Zika. The money will be used to support mosquito surveillance and control, develop improved diagnostic tests and a vaccine and respond to the looming Zika epidemic in Puerto Rico. Lacking full funding, many of the Administration’s plans to battle the disease will be put on hold, such as vaccine testing. Mosquito surveillance and control programs may be discontinued early if money runs out, according to Shaun Donovan, Director of the Office of Management and Budget.
“We’re going to be launching an aggressive coordinated campaign with the NGA (National Governors Association) to stop Zika at the source and keep Americans healthy.” — President Barack Obama
The Zika virus is predominately spread through the bite of the Aedis aegypti mosquito, commonly known as the yellow fever mosquito. Cases of human-to-human transmission through sexual contact have been documented by the CDC. For healthy individuals, infection produces mild symptoms, although one study found a link to the virus and Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can cause temporary paralysis. The primary health concern with Zika is the danger to infants in utero. The virus is associated with increased rates of microcephaly, a severe birth defect that affects fetal brain development.
An updated CDC map shows the insect’s reach goes as far north as New York City and stretches from coast to coast. The CDC reports that, as of March 30, 349 locally acquired cases of the Zika virus are documented in the U.S. Territories of American Samoa, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Nearly all states have incidents of travel-associated cases. The disease may be transmitted when an individual carrying the virus is bitten by a mosquito that then infects another person. As the weather warms, mosquito activity increases, heightening the risk of transmission with the approach of summer.