Don’t look to Congress for help battling Zika. The members are on vacation. And their timing could not be worse. The CDC has now confirmed four cases of Zika that have been transmitted in Broward or Miami-Dade counties in Florida. That means these cases weren’t in people who travelled outside the United States and infected abroad. These aren’t cases of sexual transmission. Health authorities are warning that these are the first cases of infection in this country caused by Zika carrying mosquitos. This is a game changer. Zika is here.
By now everyone knows of the devastating consequences in Brazil of abnormal fetal development in newborns born to mothers who were infected by Zika during their pregnancies. The world was slow to take notice and even slower to intervene. In a country where abortion is illegal and diagnosing brain abnormalities can be difficult until the second trimester, the majority of Brazilian women have been left to deal with the unintended consequences of this epidemic. The WHO and CDC warned that Zika cannot be confined to one country and put the world on notice. Congress was not listening.
Puerto Rico succumbed next and now has a reported 4700 documented cases. With hot summer months still upon Puerto Rico and the Southern United States, mosquito eradication programs lacking, and stagnant water in the poorest neighborhoods, there is no reason to believe things will get better soon.
Which brings me back to Congress. Drs Tony Fauci and Tom Frieden have called upon Congress to put partisan politics behind and move money earmarked for Ebola research to Zika vaccination research now. Government labs and pharmaceutical companies are ready. Every day without funding this research ensures that infection rates will increase and America’s unborn will be at risk.
It may be winter in Brazil right now, and infection rates may drop with the weather and inherent herd immunity, but the same cannot be said for Florida and the Gulf States. Infectious diseases do not respect borders, walls, airplanes or lousy politics. Good public health begins at home and global health affects us all. When are we going to learn?