In February 2016, President Obama requested $1.9 billion in emergency money to fight the Zika virus. Two months later Congress has not acted on the request.
The administration has transferred nearly $600 million from the Ebola fund for now, but that will not cover developing and manufacturing vaccines and medicines against the virus, controlling mosquitoes spreading the virus, and improving virus testing accuracy. It was in reserve for U.S. agreements with poor nations to help them respond to outbreaks, as well as possible Ebola reoccurrence within the United States.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of April 20, 2016 there were 388 cases in the United States, mostly in Florida and New York, but all are travel-related. So far no local mosquitoes have been the cause, but the infected mosquitoes are present in bordering Mexico and spreading the virus to people there.
Although most Zika cases involve fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis, they are not usually life threatening. The risk is mainly microcephaly and other severe fetal brain defects in babies born to infected pregnant women. Microcephaly babies have very small heads and impaired brain development.
Travelers should check the CDC Travelers’ Health site for the latest information on where the Zika virus is. Regarding Mexico, currently the site states “Women who are pregnant: Should not travel to any area of Mexico below 6,500 feet. If you must travel to one of these areas, talk to your doctor first and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during your trip. If you have a male partner who lives in or has traveled to an area with Zika, either use condoms or do not have sex (vaginal, anal, or oral) during your pregnancy.”
After travel to an infected area, a mosquito biting a person whose blood contains the virus can spread the virus by biting another person. All U.S. travelers returning from Zika areas should carefully avoid mosquito bites for 3 weeks so they do not spread Zika to uninfected local mosquitoes, even if they never have symptoms or feel sick.
Congress is recessed, returning May 9, 2016, and will be taking their seven-week summer vacation during the peak mosquito season when the virus is most apt to spread. They may believe the public health emergency can be put on hold until they return. It is unknown whether they plan to vacation in Mexico or the other 25 Zika countries. There has been some concern about whether American athletes should be present at the August Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and they were advised to consult with their physicians.