Zika Virus: Why Babies Are At Risk And What Obama And Congress Are Doing About It

The Zika virus has infected 279 pregnant women in the United States and its territories, the New York Times is reporting. Of these women, 157 are in the United States, while 122 are in its territories.

“Public health officials are gathering data on the health consequences of the infection,” the Times added.

The Zika virus has also spread very rapidly in a short period of time, as the Times confirmed that the virus strand in Cape Verde, in Western Africa, is the same as the one now spreading in Brazil.

What Do You Need to Know About the Zika Virus?

The World Health Organization has declared the Zika virus a “global public health emergency,” according to BBC News.

Only about one in five people infected by Zika are thought to develop symptoms, including mild fever, conjunctivitis (red, sore eyes), headaches, or joint pain. However, BBC News also reports that Guillain-Barre syndrome, a nervous system disorder “that can cause temporary paralysis has been linked to the infection.”

But the most severe symptom of all is microcephaly, which babies receive from their mothers infected with the Zika virus while still in the womb, BBC News added. Microcephaly means the baby is born with an abnormally small head, and the brain is not properly formed.

“The severity varies, but it can be deadly if the brain is so underdeveloped that it cannot regulate the functions vital to life,” said BBC News.

While the link between microcephaly and the Zika virus has not been confirmed, it is nonetheless “strongly suspected,” the World Health Organization told BBC News.

The WHO also placed blame for the spread of Zika upon “governments that abandoned programs to control mosquitoes and to provide even the most basic family planning assistance to young women,” NBC News reported.

“Let me give you a stern warning,” WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan said.

“What we are seeing now looks more and more like a dramatic resurgence of the threat from emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases. The world is not prepared to cope.”

What is The United States Doing to Fight the Zika Virus?

On May 17, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would give $622 million “to control the spread of the Zika virus,” Reuters reported. This figure is in addition to $589 million from unused funds to combat Zika, House Speaker Paul Ryan’s web page stated, and so adds up to $1.1 billion to fight the spread of the virus.

The Obama administration called this “woefully inadequate” and has requested $1.9 billion, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate passed a measure allocating $1.1 billion to combat the virus, the New York Times reported. The vote was 68-29, with 22 Republicans joining all of the Democrats.

Part of the dispute between the two branches of Congress has to do with spending, Reuters said, adding that some Republicans refuse “to approve Zika funds that would add to federal budget deficits, while Democrats and some Senate Republicans favor treating the problem as an emergency that would not have to be financed with spending cuts.”

Some House Republicans have accused the Obama administration of using the Zika virus scare to start a “slush fund,” the Times said. But some Republicans from southern states disagree, including Johnny Isakson of Georgia, who spent time at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researching the virus and its potential for harm.

Zika virus in Brazil
The Zika virus, already in Brazil, has now afflicted over 200 pregnant U.S. women. [AP Photo/Felipe Dana, File]

“There have already been one million cases in the Caribbean and Central America and South America, 500 cases in the United States of America, and it’s going to grow,” he said.

“We are working with the Ministry of Health in Brazil and other international public health partners to investigate an unexpected increase in the number of babies being born with microcephaly to mothers who were infected with Zika virus during their pregnancy,” Lyle Petersen of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement on the CDC website.

[Photo by Felipe Dana/AP Images]