In a press briefing, press secretary Josh Earnest blamed Congress for a failure to provide adequate resources to the Zika threat and announced the Obama administration would be ‘reprogramming’ about $600million dollars from money allocated to the fight against Ebola.
He said the threat had increased because of a greater awareness about the sexual transmission of the disease, the impact of the virus on brain development and the increased geographical range.
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The White House has announced it is redirecting money earmarked for the fight against Ebola to combat the growing threat of the Zika virus. An edes aegypti mosquito (pictured) is seen inside a test tube as part of a research on preventing the spread of the Zika virus
The director of the Centers for Disease Control Tom Frieden also warned that local and state agencies should be preparing for the looming Zika threat as the summer months approach in the US.
But at a summit earlier this month he said: ‘It’s hard to get people to invest in it until there’s a crisis,’ according to Stat news.
Mr Earnest said: ‘For months now, the administration has been warning about the risk posed by the Zika virus, particularly the risk that is posed to pregnant women.
‘In February, the administration formally submitted a request to Congress for $1.9billion for activities that scientists and experts say are critically important to combating Zika.
‘This includes funding for mosquito control, which is particularly important now that the weather is beginning to warm up.
‘We heard from states that they’re keenly aware of the threat that the disease poses, and many do not have the money that they need for basic tasks that would prevent the spread of Zika.
‘Over this time, Congress has done nothing.’
In a press briefing, Press Secretary Josh Earnest blamed Congress for a failure to provide adequate resources to the Zika threat. Alice Vitoria Gomes Bezerra, three-months-old, (pictured) who has microcephaly, is held by her mother Nadja Cristina Gomes Bezerra
According to the CDC there have been 346 travel-associated Zika virus disease cases reported in the continental US states but 351 locally acquired cases in US territories including Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and American Samoa.
The Press Secretary added: ‘Now, we know that we cannot continue to fund a robust response to this disease without adequate resources, particularly for our partners in state and local government who bear much of the burden of fighting Zika.
‘So earlier today, as many of you may have seen, the administration announced that we would reprogram about $600million to bolster the ongoing Zika response.
‘But we also told Congress that just using some of the Ebola funds would be insufficient.
‘And that should be an indication to you that today’s actions to reprogram $600million is a temporary fix and not at all a long-term solution.
According to the Centers for Disease Control there have been 346 travel-associated Zika virus disease cases reported in the continental US states but 351 locally acquired cases in US territories including Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and American Samoa. Health workers fumigate against the Aedes aegypti mosquito in Lima, Peru (above)
‘Since the beginning of the year, our concerns about Zika have only increased because of some new things that we’ve learned about the disease.
‘First, we’ve learned that sexual transmission of the virus is actually more common than was initially believed.
‘Second, we learned that the impact of the virus on fetal brain development is likely starker and more serious than first understood.
‘Third, in the United States, the geographical range of the mosquito that carries this virus is significantly broader than our initial estimate.
‘And as we learn more about all of these things, we continue to be concerned about the potential impact of this virus on the public health situation inside the United States.’
He said: ‘We do have an opportunity to prepare for the Zika virus, but Congress has completely abdicated their responsibility to follow through on a proposal that the administration put forward based on the advice of scientific experts.
Mr Earnest said: ‘For months now, the administration has been warning about the risk posed by the Zika virus, particularly the risk that is posed to pregnant women.’ Pietro Rafael, who has microcephaly, reacts to stimulus at the Altino Ventura rehabilitation center in Recife, Brazil (above)
‘So the administration is going to do what we can right now to fight this disease by shifting funds temporarily from the fight against Ebola into the fight against Zika.
‘State and local officials are certainly doing their job right now to try to prepare their communities to fight Zika. Now it’s time for Congress to do its job for a change.’
Earlier this week scientists revealed the highest levels of are found in male testes.
Lead study author Dr Michael Diamond, of the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, said: ‘We looked for evidence of Zika in the mouse testes mostly as an afterthought, due to mounting evidence of sexual transmission and were surprised that viral levels were the highest we saw in any tissues.
‘We are now doing subsequent tests to determine how long those viral levels are sustained, which could help us estimate the length of time Zika can be transmitted sexually.’
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ZIKA
WHAT IS ZIKA?
The Zika (ZEE’-ka) virus was first discovered in a monkey in Uganda in 1947 – its name comes from the Zika forest where it was first discovered.
It is native mainly to tropical Africa, with outbreaks in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands.
It appeared in Brazil in 2014 and has since been reported in many Latin American countries and Caribbean islands.
HOW IS IT SPREAD?
It is typically transmitted through bites from the same kind of mosquitoes – Aedes aegypti – that can spread other tropical diseases, like dengue fever, chikungunya and yellow fever.
It is not known to spread from person to person.
Though rare, scientists have found Zika can be transmitted sexually. The World Health Organisation recently warned the mode of transmission is ‘more common than previously assumed’.
And, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued first-time guidance, saying couples trying to conceive should abstain or wear condoms for six months if the male has confirmed or suspected Zika.
Additionally, the CDC said couples should abstain or wear condoms for eight weeks if the female has confirmed or suspected Zika, or if the male traveled to a country with a Zika outbreak but has no symptoms.
During the current outbreak, the first case of sexually transmitted Zika was reported in Texas, at the beginning of February.
The patient became infected after sexual contact with a partner diagnosed with the virus after travelling to an affected region.
Now, health officials in the US are investigating more than a dozen possible cases of Zika in people thought to be infected during sex.
There are also reported cases in France and Canada.
Prior to this outbreak, scientists reported examples of sexual transmission of Zika in 2008.
A researcher from Colorado, who caught the virus overseas, is thought to have infected his wife, on returning home.
And records show the virus was found in the semen of a man in Tahiti.
So far, each case of sexual transmission of Zika involves transmission from an infected man to his partner. There is no current evidence that women can pass on the virus through sexual contact.
The World Health Organization says Zika is rapidly spreading in the Americas because it is new to the region, people aren’t immune to it, and the Aedes aegypti mosquito that carries it is just about everywhere – including along the southern United States.
Canada and Chile are the only places without this mosquito.
ARE THERE SYMPTOMS?
The majority of people infected with Zika virus will not experience symptoms.
Those that do, usually develop mild symptoms – fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes – which usually last no more than a week.
There is no specific treatment for the virus and there is currently no vaccine to protect against infection, though several are in the developmental stages.
WHY IS IT A CONCERN NOW?
In Brazil, there has been mounting evidence linking Zika infection in pregnant women to a rare birth defect called microcephaly, in which a newborn’s head is smaller than normal and the brain may not have developed properly.
Brazilian health officials last October noticed a spike in cases of microcephaly in tandem with the Zika outbreak.
The country said it has confirmed more than 860 cases of microcephaly – and that it considers them to be related to Zika infections in the mother.
Brazil is also investigating more than 4,200 additional suspected cases of microcephaly.
However, Brazilian health officials said they had ruled out 1,471 suspected cases in the week ending March 19.
Although Zika has not been conclusively proven to cause microcephaly, the World Health Organization has said that there is a ‘strong scientific consensus’ that it does.
The WHO also stated that researchers are now convinced that Zika is responsible for increased reports of a nerve condition called Guillain-Barre that can cause paralysis.
A team of Purdue University scientists recently revealed a molecular map of the Zika virus, which shows important structural features that may help scientists craft the first treatments to tackle the disease.
The map details vital differences on a key protein that may explain why Zika attacks nerve cells – while other viruses in the same family, such as dengue, Yellow Fever and West Nile, do not.
CAN THE SPREAD BE STOPPED?
Individuals can protect themselves from mosquito bites by using insect repellents, and wearing long sleeves and long pants – especially during daylight, when the mosquitoes tend to be most active, health officials say.
Eliminating breeding spots and controlling mosquito populations can help prevent the spread of the virus.
WILL THE ZIKA OUTBREAK SPREAD TO THE US?
Yes, leading global health experts expect the virus to appear in the US in the coming months.
As the temperature begins to rise across the country, the mosquito is likely to become abundant across much of the southern and eastern US.
The National Center for Atmospheric Research determined the Zika virus risk estimates for 50 US cities.
Cities in southern Florida, as well as impoverished areas in southern Texas, carry the highest risk of Zika outbreaks, a team of experts determined.
However, the mosquito is also projected to appear as far west as Phoenix and Los Angeles, and as far north as New York City.
The CDC said mosquitoes that can transmit the Zika virus may live in a larger swath of the US than previously thought, however.
But, the expanded range doesn’t mean that they will cause disease in those areas.
The CDC revealed new maps of the estimated range of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes and a related cousin.
It had been thought that the mosquitoes would primarily reside in the southern part of the country.
But, the new map shows the range of the Aedes aegypti mosquito could extend to parts of the Midwest and Northeast.
The CDC said the new maps are a best understanding of where the mosquitoes have been seen recently or previously.