Washington, DC - April 24, 2016 - With legislation necessary to take on the Zika virus headed to the Senate floor within a month, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced he will push the President’s emergency funding request of $1.9 billion to help prevent and treat the spread of the Zika epidemic. Schumer said that more than 800 Americans have already contracted Zika, with 60 confirmed cases in New York State. Just recently, the CDC confirmed the link between Zika during pregnancy and severe birth defects like microcephaly. Schumer said that these funds are critical in the fight against Zika and that Congress should deliver this funding before the epidemic spreads and more cases are brought to the United States come mosquito season.
“With so many women and families across the country looking for action, it is critical that members of Congress work together to greenlight at least $1.9 billion in emergency funding as soon as possible so that we can help stem the spread of Zika,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. “Simply put, anyone repellent to this emergency funding plan isn’t serious about beating Zika. When it comes to fighting this epidemic, a stitch in time will save nine and so, I will do everything in my power to make sure emergency funding is delivered.”
President Obama’s supplemental emergency funding request, which is now part of a legislative bill sponsored by Florida U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, includes a comprehensive response to the Zika virus. Overall, the federal funds would allow the United States to take critical steps in the response to Zika at home and abroad. For instance, the plan would improve vector control, expand access to family planning and contraceptives and accelerate efforts to developing a vaccine. There is currently no treatment or vaccine available for Zika. Funds could be used to provide for mosquito control programs across the country. Mosquito control programs typically involve surveillance methods, source reduction methods and other control strategies. Additionally, the funds would help perfect diagnostic tools and testing.
Lastly, the funds would include strong support for Puerto Rico, where women and families are especially threatened.
Zika virus is spread to people through mosquito bites. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on a person who has already been infected by the virus. The Aedes aegypti has spread most of the cases; these types of mosquitoes have been found in Florida and Hawaii. The Asian Tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus, is also known to transmit the virus; these types of mosquitoes have been found in New York and Chicago.
Common symptoms of Zika include fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis, however, the virus may cause more serious risks to those who are pregnant. Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the Zika virus can cause microcephaly and other birth defects. Microcephaly is a rare condition in which the baby’s head is abnormally small and can have brain damage. Thousands of infants in Brazil have already been born with microcephaly since last spring.
More than 800 Americans have been infected with the Zika virus, including about 90 pregnant women, in 40 states, Washington, D.C., and 3 U.S. Territories, including 89 pregnant women, have already been infected by the virus. In New York, there have been at least sixty confirmed cases.
According to the CDC, the imported cases could result in local spread of the virus in the United States. In May, the Pan American Health Organization issued an alert regarding the first confirmed Zika virus infection in Brazil. So far, approximately 1.5 million people have contracted the virus in Brazil. Zika virus has spread to more than two dozen countries including the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Saint Martin, Venezuela and others. Earlier this year, the CDC issued an Alert- Level 2 Practice Enhanced Precautions travel warning about the risk of traveling to countries affected by the virus. Also, earlier this year, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Director General Margaret Chan convened an International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on Zika virus as well as the “observed increase in neurological disorders and neonatal malformations” associated with the virus. The Committee, which convened in Geneva, determined the outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. According to WHO, a Public Health Emergency of International Concern is defined as “an extraordinary event which is determined, as provided in these Regulations: to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease; and to potentially require a coordinated international response.”
Previously, Schumer called for a three-point federal plan aimed at containing the Zika virus. First, Schumer called on the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to prioritize and increase its involvement in Zika-affected countries abroad in order to better prevent, contain and treat the virus. USAID is one of the lead government entities that works overseas to help improve global health, help societies prevent and recover from conflicts, and more. Second, Schumer called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) to focus resources to expeditiously develop a vaccine and to work alongside the private sector in doing so. Currently, there is no cure, treatment or vaccine available for Zika, which can be extremely serious to pregnant women because of possible birth defects—like microcephaly--linked to the virus. Lastly, Schumer successfully called on the U.S. to push the World Health Organization (WHO) to publicly declare a health emergency. On February 1st, the WHO official declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern soon after Schumer’s push. Schumer has also called for a Zika Czar to better help fight the virus before it spreads further and more cases are brought to the United States.