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GOP Zika Funding Bill Fails in Re-vote as New Epidemiological Data Emerge

Congress failed to reach a decision on Zika funding today as a new study reveals that the epidemic is expected to last well into 2019.

Congress failed to reach a decision on Zika funding today as a new study reveals that the epidemic is expected to last well into 2019.

It’s been several months since President Obama first insisted that Congress take action against the impending Zika threat. In early February, the Obama administration requested $1.9 billion in federal funds to aid in combating active Zika transmission in the United States. The Senate approved a bill that would grant $1.1 billion in Zika funds; however, the bill did not go through the House without a few provisions. The proposed changes included reallocating funding from the Obamacare and Ebola programs and restricting funding to family planning organizations such as Planned Parenthood. Democrats voted down the bill in late June, due to these provisions because they felt that providing family planning organizations with funding is imperative, considering that the populations they cater to are at most risk of developing complications associated with a Zika infection.

According to Time, today’s congressional session saw much debate over the bill. In response to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s allegations stating that Democrats are not considering the serious implications of the virus when they vote against the bill, Senate Democrat Harry Reid stated that the majority of the threat of the virus is posed to pregnant women and their fetuses, whom, according to the proposed changes, would not benefit from the passing of this bill.

Congress’ failure to come to a decision on funding comes on the heels of recently revealed information on just how long we could be battling the virus.

According to research recently published in Science, the current Zika epidemic is projected to last for three years “with seasonal oscillations in incidence caused by variation in mosquito populations and transmissibility.” After three years, the authors state that herd immunity should then delay another epidemic for approximately 10 years until “further large epidemics are possible.” The effects of climate change have the ability to impact the trajectory of the current epidemic substantially, and so further studies are needed.

Of note is the fact that the herd immunity is “unlikely to be sufficient to prevent ongoing and substantial risk to pregnant women in future Zika epidemics.” If this proves to be true, a vaccine for the virus remains paramount.

Fortunately, the stall on government funding has not stopped research and infection prevention efforts. In the hopes of providing funds for rapid response, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued $25 million in funds to state, city, and territorial healthcare departments.

With three US territories currently experiencing active Zika transmission, and numbers totaling in the thousands, vector-control methods are being deployed en masse across all areas. In an effort to control Zika transmission in Puerto Rico, which currently has the highest number of cases among all US territories, federal agencies are encouraging island officials to commence aerial spraying as a means of controlling the Aedes aegypti population. This mosquito which not only transmits Zika, but also Dengue, Chikungunya, and West Nile Virus. The CDC is partnering with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to come up with a mosquito-control plan for Puerto Rico.

In a statement, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy stated, “An integrated and comprehensive approach includes reducing places where mosquitoes lay eggs, keeping them out of houses, and reducing the populations of both larval and adult mosquitoes by treating areas with EPA-approved products.”

Infection with the Zika virus during pregnancy has been confirmed to cause several neurological impairments in fetuses. As a result, both the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) have issued travel warnings, recommending that pregnant women, women of childbearing age, or male sexual partners of these women (who can transfer the virus through semen) avoid areas with known active Zika virus transmission, or travel at their own risk.