As Zika dangers become more obvious, Congress balks at releasing needed research money

pregnancy-button-1If they think hard about it, most people can figure out why the Republican-led Congress throws legislative roadblocks in front of almost all demands, requests and pleas coming from the White House.

But ignoring an appeal for money to thwart the Zika virus makes sense to few.

In March, when President Obama requested $1.9 billion in emergency funds to ramp up the fights against this little-known disease, the White House spokesman said the administration wasn’t worried about Republican roadblocks for the potentially life-saving funds.

“This sort of falls in the category of things that shouldn’t break down along party lines,” he said.

Now, two months later, Congress has done nothing.

House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office said: “If additional Zika resources are needed, those funds could and should be addressed through the regular appropriations process.”

Republican budget leaders say the amount Obama requested may be reduced and, in any case, is unlikely to be made available in the new fiscal year. Others say waiting until October 1 to let health researchers know whether they will get the funds to stop or at least treat this disease is unconscionable.

What little is known gets more troubling by the day.

“Zika causes microcephaly and other severe birth defects of the brain. I think we don’t know the full spectrum of that, either, but we know it’s not just microcephaly,” said Dr. Sonja Rasmussen, a clinical geneticist and director of the Division of Public Health Information and Dissemination.

Scientists are rushing the results of Zika studies into print and before the public as quickly as possible, and the results of each seem more frightening than the findings released a day earlier.

“Most of what we’ve learned is not reassuring. Everything we look at with this virus seems to be a bit scarier than we initially thought,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, the senior deputy director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. US-CDC-Logo

She calls Zika “a scary thing.”

Physicians are finding side effects among the babies infected with Zika that go beyond microcephaly, where the head is smaller than normal. Studies show the Zika virus appears to target brain cells and kill them.

Researchers also reported finding acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, an inflammation in the brain and spinal cord that damages the protective covering of nerve fibers.

To date, all of the 346 cases of Zika confirmed in the mainland U.S. are in people who had recently traveled to countries where the Zika infection is active. Health officials worry that freedom from the virus in this country may not last once summer and the hot, mosquito-breeding months arrive.

The two types of mosquitoes carrying Zika mosquitoes were initially thought to exist only in the Deep South, but now public-health experts say the dangerous breeds have been found in 30 states.

Zika was first discovered in animals in the Zika forest in Uganda in 1947. Five years later, according to CDC, the first human cases were found in a handful of areas in Africa and Southeast Asia.

At first, the common symptoms of Zika didn’t worry most. The fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes were mild and usually lasted no more than a week after being bitten by a Zika-carrying mosquito.

Two international health organizations warned the world that Zika was causing a public health emergency: the Pan American Health Organization in mid-2015, and, nine months later, the World Health Organization.

“Never before in history has there been a situation where a bite from a mosquito could result in a devastating malformation,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC.

Trying to confirm that an exposure to something causes a specific health outcome is very complex and can take years.

“Each new study is another piece of the puzzle. Some epidemiologic, some clinical, some molecular, but each new finding, each new data point feeds into what we know about Zika and helps us solve the puzzle,” Frieden said.


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