Science moves faster than funding for Zika, while virus moves faster still

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A little more than three months since the World Health Organization recognized the spread of Zika virus and accompanying rising rates of microcephaly and other neurological disorders as a public health emergency of international concern, policymakers Thursday will consider once again the reasons President Obama asked in February that $1.9 million in emergency funding be provided to address the situation.

Speakers at the House Democratic Steering & Policy Committee Hearing on “The Zika Public Health Crisis: the Urgent Need for the President’s Emergency Funding Request,”  include National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, who has spoken about the likelihood of locally transmitted outbreaks in the U.S. and researchers’ efforts “with our foot to the pedal to the floor” to develop a vaccine that can protect pregnant women and their babies. He and others addressing the hearing, co-chaired by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who has repeatedly called for bolstering emergency public health research and response resources, will likely be preaching to the choir, this time.

More recent converts to the cause of Zika emergency funding include policymakers from Florida, the state that is already home to more confirmed, (and currently solely travel related) cases of the virus than any other. They include Sen. Marco Rubio, who in April came out strongly for an “immediate” response to the President’s February emergency request.  Florida Governor Rick Scott released a budget proposal in November that dealt its biggest cuts to Florida’s departments of health and environmental protection, and signed a bill cutting funding for women’s reproductive health care services little more than a month ago. Now, with mosquito-breeding season approaching, he has recognized a need, saying “we owe our citizens a vigorous and thorough preparation effort at the federal level to best protect their health.”

In the meantime, science has moved faster. The U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control has found that urine testing can detect Zika that tests of blood and saliva samples have failed to detect. And CDC researchers in Puerto Rico have released field-testing results of a mosquito trap showing lowered rates of chikungunya — a virus spread by the same mosquito that transmits Zika — in communities where it was used.

The Zika virus itself, however, hopping aboard planes and boats continues to move faster still, with the tourist destination of St. Bart most recently joining the CDC’s list of places for women who are pregnant to avoid.

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