CDC director: Just a few weeks' of Zika funding remain

WASHINGTON - The head of the government fight against the Zika virus said “we are now essentially out of money” and warned the country is “about to see a bunch of kids born with microcephaly” in the coming months.

Friday’s warning from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Thomas Frieden came as lawmakers start to sort out a stopgap government funding bill that is being targeted to also carry long-delayed money to battle Zika.

U.S. Rep. Curt Clawson, R-Bonita Springs, on Thursday introduced bipartisan legislation that would appropriate $1.1 billion in funding to combat the spread of the virus through FY2017. The Clawson bill mirrors an amendment passed by the Senate in May. U.S. Reps. Frederica Wilson and David Jolly, both of Florida, and Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona joined Clawson as original cosponsors of the legislation.

“The Zika virus is a present and growing threat, not just to the State of Florida, but to the country as a whole,’’ said Clawson in a statement. “The spread of Zika will not wait for the partisan bickering in Congress to end. Unfortunately, both chambers of Congress have allowed political gamesmanship to prevent meaningful legislation from reaching the President’s desk. We can no longer wait to act. I commend Representatives Wilson, Jolly, and Kirkpatrick for joining me in introducing this much-needed bill.”

“The Zika virus is a present and growing threat, not just to the State of Florida, but to the country as a whole,’’ said Clawson in a statement. “The spread of Zika will not wait for the partisan bickering in Congress to end. Unfortunately, both chambers of Congress have allowed political gamesmanship to prevent meaningful legislation from reaching the President’s desk. We can no longer wait to act. I commend Representatives Wilson, Jolly, and Kirkpatrick for joining me in introducing this much-needed bill.”

Zika is spreading more widely in the U.S. and can not only cause microcephaly — in which babies are born with grave brain defects — but other problems the country will face for decades. And 671 pregnant women in the states and Washington, D.C., have the virus, leading to the birth of 17 babies with microcephaly so far.

Frieden said funding delays have slowed long-term studies of the disease and production of new tests for it. “We haven’t been able to get a running start” on a long-term battle against Zika, he said.

Frieden said “we don’t like to see” use of pesticides such as Friday morning’s spraying of naled, in Miami Beach. But new technologies for the application of such toxic chemicals are safe for humans. The two localized mosquito-borne outbreaks in Miami are “quite difficult to control,” Frieden said, noting the type of mosquitoes that spread Zika “are the cockroach of mosquitoes.”

President Obama in February requested $1.9 billion to fight Zika, but Republicans controlling Congress acted slowly on the request. A Capitol Hill fight this summer stalled the Zika aid. Republicans attached restrictions on any money going to affiliates of Planned Parenthood in Puerto Rico. Democrats objected and blocked the $1.1 billion measure.

Now, negotiations are underway to break the impasse over Zika and add it to the only piece of legislation that has to pass Congress before the election: A stopgap funding bill to avert a government shutdown Oct. 1.

Democrats and the White House have greater leverage now since their approval is needed for the stopgap spending bill, and Republicans are signaling they’ll likely lift restrictions on delivering contraception, treatment and care through Planned Parenthood, an organization many Republicans loathe since it is a provider of abortion.

A bipartisan consensus is emerging to fund the government through mid-December, though some House tea party conservatives are opposed and want a longer duration for the measure to avert a lame duck session of Congress.

Since the summertime impasse, Zika has spread even more widely, and frustration is mounting from lawmakers representing affected areas. Almost 3,000 people in the continental U.S. have been found to have Zika, and the total is far higher since most people don’t display symptoms. The figures including Puerto Rico and the other territories are far worse.

“Look if we don’t, then fire all of us,” Jolly said, whose state is bearing the brunt of the disease in the continental U.S. “If we can’t get Zika funding by the end of September then we’re nothing but a bunch of idiots up here.”

Frieden noted it is extremely unusual to have a new cause for a severe birth defect and the health care system will be grappling with effects of Zika for years to come. While microcephaly is the most immediate result of the outbreak, Frieden noted infants are having problems swallowing and with their vision and hearing.

“We don’t know what congenital Zika syndrome will look like,” Frieden said. “We will likely be dealing with this for decades to come.”

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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