But he says Congress needs to appropriate money so more can be done.
Frederick, Md (KM) The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there are some victories won in the fight against the Zika virus in the United States, but more needs to be done. “We’ve made progress, but we really are hampered by not having funding from Congress,” says Dr. Tom Frieden, CDC’s Director.
Dr. Frieden says medical personnel can diagnose the disease. “People who traveled, pregnant women and others, who may have been exposed to Zika, can be tested. We’ve sent our CDC emergency response teams, at states’ request, to Utah, Texas and Florida. We’ve been working closely and have gotten over $100-million out to state, territorial and local health departments so they can do the monitoring and response,” he says.
But other steps need to be taken to curb the Zika virus. “First is to better understand the disease. There’s a lot we don’t know. We’re learning more everyday, but even the simple question: does a baby born to a mother infected by Zika who doesn’t have microcephaly have a serious neurological or other problems. We don’t know the answer to that,” he says.
The Zika virus, which was detected earlier this year in the US, is spread by mosquitoes, specifically the Aedes aegypti breed. It was first identified in Central and South America and the Caribbean, and came to the United States from visitors in that area of the world who were bitten by mosquitoes. But recently, it’s been identified in mosquitoes in the US.
Pregnant women are especially susceptible to the effects of the Zika virus which can cause mircocephaly in their newborns. Health officials have strongly urged women who are expecting not to travel to areas of the world where this virus is active.
Health officials also say in addition to mosquito bites, the Zika virus can be spread by sexual contact with an infected partner. Individuals who may have the disease are urged to use condoms.
As of August 31st, the CDC says there are more than 16,000 confirmed cases of Zika in the US and its territories.
Dr. Frieden is urging Congress to quickly pass a Zika funding bill. “The delay in getting funding just shows how important it is that there’s something like an infectious disease rapid reserve. So that we’re able to tap into dollars and get a running start the next time there’s an infectious disease emergency because we know there will be a next time,” he says.
US Representatives and Senators came under harsh criticism for leaving for their summer recess before taking any action on a Zika appropriations bill. Congress is back, but a Zika funding bill is stalled because it’s been connected with appropriations for Planned Parenthood.
Despite these setbacks, Dr. Frieden says he’s confident that a vaccine will be developed to fight Zika. “The human immunity to Zika is strong and long lasting, and that’s a predictor of being able to get a good vaccine,” he says. “But it’s takes a least a couple of years. We need to work full steam ahead on the vaccine but also full steam ahead on better ways to diagnose the infection and control the mosquito.”