Reuter’s reports that many states and communities are ill-prepared for the arrival of Zika. While the CDC has confirmed numerous cases of Zika within the U.S., all of the cases (excluding those in U.S. territories) are the result of travel by individuals to countries affected by the virus.
Experts are growing increasingly concerned about impending “locally acquired” cases of Zika (whereby mosquitos in the U.S. are transferring the virus to livestock and people, and, people are spreading the virus from one to another.)
Reuter’s quotes an epidemiologist from Mississippi’s Department of Health as stating the South is “woefully under-invested” to the task.
Today’s Wall Street Journal informs that the Zika virus will arrive to U.S. shores “in a month or so” and experts are continuing to ring the alarm about the shortening of the time frame for when that day will arrive. The hotter the weather gets, the sooner the day will come.
Meanwhile, President Obama and Congress tussle over the appropriations required to address the virus, and, there seems to be further disagreement concerning from which account the needed funds will be drawn.
Obama is asking Congress to approve $1.9 billion in financing to fight the spread of Zika.
H.R. 4446 would provide $622 million (a bit more than a billion short) and would divert funds from an account which had previously been earmarked to fight Ebola in the U.S.
Congress has been relatively silent on what it intends to do to fight the spread of Ebola, which is still a credible threat to U.S. public health.
Obama equated the House’s proposed transfer of funds from one virus-fighting account to another, as the House attempting to “rob Peter to pay Paul”, and, seemed a bit bewildered that the House would suggest there is “no new money there”.
Whether there is or is not actual new money available in the federal budget (after Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Panama, who can know?), there is the matter of an impending public health crisis for which the United States has claimed the tortoise as its mascot.
Only, this public health crisis is a potential women’s health crisis because infection by the Zika virus holds such dire consequence for pregnant women, women of childbearing age and their unborn children. Little is known about microcephaly, the birth defect caused when a pregnant woman becomes infected by the Zika virus, other than pregnant women who have contracted the virus are at risk of their unborn children being born with the condition. (In March, WHO estimated that Brazil will suffer 2,500 cases of microcephaly in its population.)
The Zika virus is carried by two breeds of mosquito: the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. The United States is habitat to both breeds of insect (states can be habitat to one or both breeds of the mosquitos.)
The CDC estimates the spread of Aedes aegypti and/or the Aedes albopictus to all Southern states, most Eastern states and large swaths of the midwest.
Currently, New York (114) and Florida (109) have the highest number of reported cases.
The issue of mosquito control is an area of government most often managed by local municipalities. If a community has a mosquito control policy in place, it is often a truck spraying a neighborhood on a weekly or monthly basis.
Fighting Zika will require more of a sustained effort: the public needs to understand how Zika is spread (the virus can be spread through sexual contact); pregnant women should be reminded to postpone pregnancies if they have recently been infected (a touchy subject for any conservative Southern governor); communities should be made aware standing water is a breeding ground for mosquito populations; and, communities should be reminded about the use of insect repellents, protective clothing and mosquito netting, as barriers to infection.
Monitoring of livestock, mosquito populations and infected individuals is also a part of preparedness and reducing the spread of the virus.
There will be added financial stress to communities as they treat the virus and birth defects, should those occur.
Many states have held knowledge for the need to control mosquito populations for some time because of the threat of viruses such as the West Nile. It will be difficult for some states to now argue they have been caught unaware. The same is true for the federal government: the BBC quotes WHO’s director Dr. Margaret Chan as saying that Zika is “the price being paid for a massive policy failure that dropped the ball on mosquito control in the 1970s”.