He says federal scientists have run out of money in fighting this disease.
Frederick, Md. (KM) Declaring the epidemic to be a national emergency, Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md) is calling on Congress to provide federal funding to continue the research into the Zika virus. He says this money is needed by the end of the month. “This is an emergency. It was not in the budget,” he said. “They’ve been taking money from different parts of their budget, jeopardizing programs such as the influenza vaccine research and other programs in order to fund Zika. That has to be replenished and they need money going forward.”
Cardin is talking about scientists at the National Institutes of Health, which he visited last Friday. He says he spoke with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who told him that NIH has run of money to combat the Zika virus. “We can develop a vaccine that can protect Americans but that vaccine was supposed to go into the trial starting early next year. If money isn’t forthcoming this month, we’ll have to postpone the trials which means probably a year delay.”
The Zika virus was detected earlier this year in the United States. It’s spread by mosquitoes, specifically the Aedes aegypti breed. The disease was first identified in Central and South America, and in the Caribbean. Originally, it came to the US from Americans who had traveled outside of the country. But the Zika virus has been detected in mosquitoes which are native to the United States.
Pregnant women are especially vulnerable to the Zika virus. It can cause birth defects in their unborn children, including microcephaly.
And it isn’t just mosquitoes who transmit the disease. The Zika virus can be spread by sexual contact with someone who has contracted the illness. Individuals who have this disease are encouraged to use condoms when having sex.
He says it’s extremely important for Congress to appropriate this money now. “We’re starting to see babies born with birth defects here in America. We know that there has been some contracted viruses right here in America in Florida. We know that there are numerous cases of people with the virus because of travel-related infections. Our servicemen
are certainly very vulnerable to this, and our women,” says Senator Cardin.
He says a “clean” Zika funding bill was passed by the Senate. But the House of Representatives added items to it. “It came over to use from the house. It defunded Planned Parenthood. It was another attempt to deal with the Affordable Care Act. It allows pesticides to be disposed of in our river. It had a whole host of things unrelated to the Zika Virus,” Cardin says.
Despite the intense partisan bickering on Capitol Hill, Senator Cardin remains optimistic. “I have to have confidence that my colleagues will recognize that this is an urgent public health need, and they need to act this month to make sure that our scientists have the help they need from us to help Americans,” he says.
Senator Cardin’s Office says so far this year, there have been 16,800 confirmed Zika cases in the United States.
By Kevin McManus