Zika Virus Threat Worsens In The U.S., Congress Stalls On Funding For Disease Research

Once thought of as a disease that can easily be contained, the Zika virus is now considered “scarier” than expected, according to an announcement made by a health expert.

Dr. Anne Schuchat from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the virus can spread to more U.S. states than previously thought.

“Most of what we’ve learned is not reassuring,” said Dr. Schuchat on Monday, during the White House briefing.

“Everything we know about this virus seems to be scarier than we initially thought,” she added about the virus, which first spread in Brazil almost a year ago.

In the briefing, Dr. Schuchat said that the Aedes aegypti, the mosquito species responsible for transmitting the virus, is seen in 30 U.S. states, not 12 as previously believed.

Since then, it has been linked to various birth defects, particularly microcephaly, a condition that causes a child’s brain to be smaller than the normal size. The virus has been spreading in North and South American countries, as well as some nations in Africa and Asia.

In the U.S., the first report of the Zika virus came out in Dallas in February. Interestingly, it was transmitted to the patient via sexual contact and not a direct mosquito bite.

There are currently 346 cases of the Zika virus in the continental United States, and health officials are warning people that the number of mosquito bites may increase due to the summer season. Out of the total cases, 32 were pregnant women, while seven of them acquired the virus through sexual activity.

With the number of Zika cases increasing, officials are alarmed that research may not be able to catch up.

In order to fight the effects of the virus and prevent its further spread, President Barack Obama already asked the U.S. Congress to allot $1.8 billion in emergency funding. While Congress works on it, health agencies are using the remaining $589 million health fund for the Ebola crisis a year ago.

Unfortunately, America’s fight against the Zika virus and the mosquitoes that transport them may not be enough. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that the country needs more funding for research, which would result in vaccines and treatments.

“When the president asked for $1.9 billion, we needed $1.9 billion,” he said.

“This is a very unusual virus that we can’t pretend to know everything about it that we need to know,” said he said.

In addition, Dr. Fauci said that, while researchers are observing the virus and knowing more of its neurological effects, they are also beginning to realize the fact that the outbreak is “very serious.”

According to Dr. Fauci, researchers have also observed how the virus can be destructive to fetal brains, and once they are born and grow up, they usually develop rare neurological problems.

In most cases of the Zika virus in the country, the patients were infected because they traveled to infected countries. However, in countries like Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, the virus is currently being transmitted locally as opposed to travel-related causes.

Meanwhile, regarding the administration’s request for funding, congressional Republicans are claiming that the White House is “politicizing” the Zika virus. If the budget is really needed, it should still go through the necessary steps for approval.

On the other hand, Democrats are saying that the potential effects of the virus can’t wait on the budget cycle.

“Down the road, we’ll find a vaccine. Down the road we will be able to manage this problem,” said Florida Senator Bill Nelson.

“But in the meantime there’s a great deal of trauma (and) some extraordinary heartbreak to some families,” he added.

[Photo by Arnulfo Franco/AP Images]