Politics Hamper Zika Response in Florida
By Clay DavisPublished September 29, 2016In the months preceding the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, a new mosquito borne public health crisis called Zika shook Latin America. Usually, the Zika virus is relatively benign. Adults who are infected by the previously rare disease usually show absolutely no symptoms and are subsequently immune. In very rare cases, neurological damage and death may occur. Unfortunately, there is a strong link between pregnant women becoming infected with the virus, and a severe birth defect called microcephaly. This condition, which literally means "small head," can cause extreme brain damage and disability. Because the body of research on Zika is small, exact quantified risks aren't available.
The virus has hit some areas of the United States and territories especially hard. So far, Puerto Rico (where the most cases were reported) and the other territories have seen more than 14,000 cases. Of those,1,000 have been pregnant women. A wave of domestic media frenzy began when locally transmitted Zika (meaning local mosquitoes are infected) first hit landfall on the continental United States in Miami, Florida. So far, 78 cases have been reported with more expected.
On February 22nd, the Obama administration requested $1.9 billion in emergency funding for Zika from Congress. These funds would contribute to the development of a vaccine, support mosquito control and surveillance measures, and send aid to other Zika affected countries. Unfortunately, this request has been met with political tension in Congress.
The Zika funding bill was written by Senate Republicans and, in addition to funding Zika research, calls for cuts to Planned Parenthood's contraception budget and components of the Affordable Care Act, while giving the green light for Confederate flags to be flown at VA cemeteries. In the meantime, the White House has approved $600 million dollars from different areas of the budget to target Zika. However, it seems that this isn't enough.
After the request was made, we learned that the range that Zika carrying mosquitos can reside in the United States greatly exceeds the northern boundary initially thought. On top of this, the number of countries suffering from Zika has nearly doubled. For these mosquitos to breed, the environment needs to be warm and moist. In fact, standing water has been targeted by CDC insecticide spraying which is an effective way to reduce vector population. Both of these habitats are generated by the flooding and warming that is associated with climate change- especially in areas of the American South.
Closer to home, the governor of Florida Rick Scott, who disbursed $26.2 million dollars of state emergency funds in June, met with senators in Washington this week to demand action on the bill. With no resolution to the senatorial stalemate in sight, Scott frantically called for $10 million additional dollars in emergency money this Friday.
If funding doesn't come through, officials are scared that recent high temperatures could create a perfect breeding ground for a massive Zika epidemic. On the upside, increased demand for a Zika vaccine has biotechnology companies scrambling. According to some estimates, the immunization could be available in less than two years. This type of monetary interest is unusual for tropical viruses, which are typically seen as not worth investment by pharmaceutical companies.