By the time Congress gets back from recess after Labor Day there will be little that can be done to slow the spread of Zika in South Florida and the Gulf Coast.
Experts said Monday that Congress’s seven-week summer recess couldn’t have come at a worse time. The period from August to early September is when mosquito-borne viruses are spread.
“By the time they get back, it’ll be really too late to have much impact,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “So whatever is going to happen, looks like it’s going to happen.”
Florida Sens. Marco Rubio, a Republican, and Bill Nelson, a Democrat, each have called for Congress to return to Washington to consider President Barack Obama’s request for $1.9 billion in emergency Zika funding.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel advisory Monday warning pregnant women against visiting a Miami neighborhood where 14 people are thought to have contracted Zika from mosquito bites, the first locally transmitted Zika outbreak in the continental United States. It is also recommending that all pregnant women who have traveled to a Zika-effected area be tested for the virus during each prenatal visit.
Several Republican leaders had balked at the idea of adding the full $1.9 billion to the deficit and urged the administration to re-purpose some unused funds in the Ebola fight, which it didn’t agree to.
Whatever is going to happen, looks like it’s going to happen.
Dr. Peter Hotez, National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine
On Monday, after identifying 10 more cases, Florida officials asked the Obama administration for help from the CDC.
At least six CDC experts will be sent to Miami as part of an emergency response team to help with the state investigation. Three people traveled to Miami Monday. Another three would travel on Tuesday.
Federal health officials did not outline the team’s specific duties, but said its members would work with Florida health officials to determine their needs and how best to use federal resources.
It’s likely that there are more than 14 cases. The flu-like symptoms are so mild that in many cases, people never realize they’re infected.
For most people, getting infected may mean little. But it’s a huge issue for expectant mothers because Zika has been linked to large increase microcephaly, a birth defect that causes a smaller underdeveloped brain. A dozen microcephalic babies have been linked to Zika infections in the United States.
The virus also poses risks for some adults of Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a paralysis that can be so severe that it halts breathing.
Nine months from now, women with their deformed babies will appear before Congress and ask, ‘Why didn’t you do something?’
Lawrence O. Gostin, Georgetown University
The lack of an agreement in Washington over Zika funding has fueled anger over continued dysfunction in Congress. Florida leaders have so far been unsuccessful at twisting their colleagues’ arms to confront the matter.
“If there was ever a time for Congress to act, it is now,” Nelson wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, on Friday. “I urge you to immediately reconvene the Senate so we can take up and pass an emergency spending bill that will provide our health officials with the resources they need to contain the spread of this virus now.”
Rubio said Monday it’s not only a health issue, but an economic one, noting that in addition to the CDC’s warning against travel to Miami by pregnant women, the British government also warned its nationals to stay clear of the area where the virus was detected.
“We’ve got 14 confirmed mosquito infections in Florida,” Rubio said. “We probably have many more; they’re just not diagnosed because most people who are not symptomatic are not going to get a Zika test.”
Now that Zika has established itself in the U.S. mosquito population, it’s likely to prove tough to eradicate.
Lawrence O. Gostin, a global health law professor at Georgetown University, has said for months that the United States was unprepared for the virus. He said Florida Gov. Rick Scott should have asked for assistance from the CDC sooner and said the political consequences for all lawmakers would be great.
“I predict that nine months from now,” Gostin said, “ women with their deformed babies will appear before Congress and ask, ‘Why didn’t you do something?’ ”