The Obama Administration is asking Congress for more than $1.8 billion in emergency funding to fight Zika, a mosquito-borne virus linked to birth defects and other health disorders. The extra money would be used to accelerate the development of vaccines and diagnostics, expand laboratory and testing capacity, and boost mosquito control programs.
Although no cases of Zika transmission by mosquitoes have been reported in the continental U.S., numerous cases have recently emerged in warmer regions of the Americas with Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which transmit the virus. People with Zika infections have also returned to the U.S. from countries in South and Central America, including Brazil, one of the hardest-hit areas so far.
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention would receive $828 million of the requested money to support prevention and response efforts, including surveillance and testing. NIH and FDA would share $200 million for research and the rapid commercialization of vaccines and diagnostic tests.
“It is critical that we approve the funds immediately and give our government the resources it needs to fight the virus,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) says. “We also need to make sure that our nation’s response to the virus includes increasing access to contraceptives for women in Zika-affected regions who choose to use them.”
Many people infected with Zika have no symptoms, but public health experts worry that an increase in the number of babies with unusually small heads and related brain damage in Brazil may be linked to the virus.