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Experts Urge United States to be Proactive, Not Reactive, in Response to Zika

MAY 13, 2016 | BRIAN P. DUNLEAVY
They say all politics is local.
 
So, too, apparently, are concerns regarding the Zika virus as summer mosquito season approaches, particularly in the southeastern part of the United States.
 
In March, President Obama proposed that $1.9 billion be allocated toward preventing Zika outbreaks in high-risk parts of the country—including Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Georgia—and managing already-identified outbreaks that are local in origin or traced to people who have traveled to regions of the Caribbean and South America, where the virus is prevalent. At press time, Congress has yet to approve and allocate the funds, however.
 
“Aggravatingly, the United States tends to be reactive, not proactive, in its response to emerging infectious diseases,” John Lednicky, PhD, associate professor, College of Public Health and Health Professions, University of Florida, told Contagion. “It is important not to be alarmist, but a balance needs to be attained between that and complacency. In the latter situation, sometimes by being reactive, our response comes late, when there is a widespread problem.”
 
Interestingly, opinion polls indicate the general public remains relatively unconcerned about the threat of Zika, despite the existence of confirmed cases in the United States. ABC News recently reported that a poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), for example, found that only 34 percent of Americans surveyed were worried that they or someone in their family could be diagnosed with the virus. To put that in perspective, this is roughly half the number of people who expressed fears regarding Ebola in another KFF poll conducted in the fall of 2014, despite the fact there were only three confirmed cases of the deadly African virus in the United States, and none of them were contracted locally.
 
Conversely, according to John C. Beier, ScD, Chief, Division of Environment and Public Health, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, the threat of a Zika virus outbreak in the United States—particularly in warm-weather states such as Florida—is “very real.” Dr. Beier and his colleagues at the University of Miami recently held a symposium on the virus that was well attended and received significant coverage in the consumer press.
 
Indeed, both Drs. Beier and Lednicky—among others—agree that the United States needs to allocate funds to combat Zika, and to do so sooner rather than later. Part of the reason the public seems relatively unconcerned about the virus to date, experts believe, is that the threat has received only a fraction of the media coverage Ebola received in 2014. Any efforts to combat Zika here, they say, need to start with educational outreach.
 


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