Zika Update

Author: David Kotok, Post Date: July 19, 2016

The US Senate and House must now take their critically needed summer vacations after not passing the funding of Zika virus-related measures. After all, they worked so diligently to (not) protect us.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is revising its guidance now that we have, in New York, the first documented case of sexually transmitted Zika from female to male. (Transmission from male to female is more common.) The virus was passed from a non-pregnant woman in her 20s to a man the day after her return from travel in a high-mosquito-risk area. They each developed symptoms, visited the same physician, and tested positive for Zika. (See: http://www.wsj.com/articles/zika-can-be-passed-from-a-woman-to-a-man-1468594818 and http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/16/nyregion/zika-virus-female-to-male-sexual-transmission.html.)

In Salt Lake County, Utah, transmission of the Zika virus from a travel-related case, an elderly male, to a family member who was caring for him, has baffled experts. The virus is thought to be transmitted from person to person only by means of mosquitoes or sexual contact, but neither vector applies here. The case remains under intensive investigation. (See http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/19/health/utah-zika-case.html.)

On July 15, the Florida Department of Health in Manatee County announced that a travel-related case of Zika virus has been confirmed in a Manatee County resident. Manatee County, along with 27 others (see http://www.floridahealth.gov/newsroom/2016/07/071816-zika-update.html), now falls under Governor Rick Scott’s Declaration of Public Health Emergency for all counties with travel-related Zika cases. While all cases identified in the State of Florida have been travel-related to date, the risk is quite real that a local mosquito might bite a returning traveler and begin to spread the infection. For us, this risk now hits close to home, as Manatee County borders Sarasota County. Across the state, of course, the number of travel-related Zika cases mounts daily. Here in Sarasota, we share the concerns of all Americans who live in parts of the country (or who travel to parts of the country) where Zika may become endemic unless timely efforts and investments are undertaken to stop the spread of the virus. The window of opportunity to prevent a widespread public health disaster is closing. A single mosquito could change everything.

Readers may recall that Zika threatens unborn children with severe birth defects, most dramatically microcephaly. Ongoing research suggests several ways that the virus can cross the placenta (see http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/19/health/zika-virus-placenta.html) and confirms that, though an infection in early pregnancy has the most profound effects, Zika poses hazards to an unborn child at all stages of pregnancy. More broadly, it threatens all with the potential for neurological complications.

So why has our national legislature failed to pass a bill authorizing funding to prevent the spread of this virus?

A bipartisan, $1.1 billion compromise “passed overwhelmingly” in the House, says the WSJ. Then Senate Democrats reversed their support, and the bill failed. Supporters who became detractors claim that the final bill would have injured Planned Parenthood and “restricted funding for birth control.” But analysis by the WSJ indicates that this claim is not true. Planned Parenthood is simply not listed on the health clinic and health center list of Zika-risk locales. (See http://www.wsj.com/articles/democrats-zika-obstruction-1468623781.) Those listed centers would be receiving immediate block grants today. They would provide birth control, Zika testing, and prenatal care today.

The Zika bill has an exemption for pesticide spraying, with a 180-day sunset. And it redirects $543 million of Obamacare healthcare exchanges in Puerto Rico to fund Zika prevention. PR elected Medicaid expansion instead of Obamacare, so the money is unused.

Mosquitos don’t vote, but they may attend political rallies in this election year. And their numbers will be larger and the healthcare support smaller as Harry Reid’s final Senate leadership year elapses.

The CDC’s count of Zika-infected pregnant women reached 649 as of July 7, 346 of those cases in US states and 303 of them in US territories, mainly Puerto Rico. Seventeen out of Zika’s more than 4000 total victims to date have come down with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a debilitating nervous system disorder.

It is too bad the Senate leadership has failed a literacy test. They cannot blame the Republicans in the Senate for this gaffe. And they certainly cannot blame the House leadership, where both parties supported and passed the final bill.

Carry your repellent. Use it on any mosquito and 52 members of the US Senate who voted no for invalid reasons.

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