Zika Virus News
Last summer, Zika dominated the news waves nationwide as public health officials were in a frenzy regarding the virus.
As summer 2017 approaches, the mosquito-born virus that sounded health alarm bells in 2016 is back to pose a renewed threat this year.
But just how dangerous of a threat will Zika be in 2017? Health officials say that is a tricky question.
As we roll into June, it is reassuring to know that no locally acquired cases of the Zika virus have been reported in the United States this year, but as public health agencies gear up for mosquito season, that could all change.
“We still have much to learn. And much remains to be done,” said Lyle Petersen, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Vector-Borne Diseases, last week at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing.
Unfortunately, there is not much clarity regarding what resources certain states may need should another Zika virus outbreak occur and whether the states will be able to receive the necessary federal support.
Also, virus researchers still have pending questions about how the Zika virus actually works and its long-term effects on people. These forces could complicate efforts to track outbreaks and provide accurate information about prevention and disease management.
Zika is known to cause birth defects if contracted by pregnant women and is primarily transmitted by a mosquito more commonly found in southern areas of the United States, such as the Gulf Coast. Last summer states including Texas, Florida, California and Louisiana were all marked as high-risk Zika areas.
Zika virus hit the Americas in 2015 and the virus reached the United States via infected travelers.
Zika Virus Stats:
- Last year, 5,102 people in the United States were reported with the disease.
- Most contracted the virus while traveling in South and Central America.
- 64 babies in the U.S. have been affected since the government began reporting outcomes last June.
- In rare cases, people who had not traveled abroad contracted Zika through a local mosquito or through sexual contact.
- Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, had 34,963 cases in 2016.
Because most people who contract the virus don’t show visible symptoms, it is tricky to figure out how to attack the issue.
“Should you begin universal screenings in communities that are at risk?” said Jeff Engel, executive director of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, which represents the specialists working in public health departments. “That is a tough resource question and probably is not feasible.”
In 2016, Congress appropriated $1.1 billion towards fighting the Zika virus which was split among research, overseas response and state public health efforts.
While the White House budget that was released last Tuesday proposes to establish an emergency fund to finance responses to outbreaks like Zika, it also proposes a $1.3 billion cut to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and takes away $838 million from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the agency behind vaccine development.
So far, there has been little talk from Congress of approving extra funding.
“Funding from Congress has been critical for our response to Zika,”said Rick Bright, director of the federal Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, a subsidiary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, at the hearing. “However, additional support will be needed.”
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