Friday, June 24, 2016
Billy Long: It's election year and I'm thinking deep thoughts about serious matters
The recent influx of media reports covering the Zika virus and rush to learn more about it have a lot of Americans concerned. Here in Southwest Missouri, many of those concerned have talked to me or have sent questions to my office asking exactly how big a threat this outbreak is and how Congress is working to contain and defeat it.
In May of 2015, the Pan American Health Organization confirmed that Brazil had its first known confirmed infections of Zika, which had only ever occurred in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Now, the virus has spread in the Americas, triggering Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) travel warnings for around 40 different countries and territories in South America, Central America, the Caribbean, and Mexico. This February, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika a “public health emergency of international concern.” By the 22nd of this month, there had already been over 800 travel-associated cases of Zika reported in the US this year, including 5 in Missouri, and more than 1,800 reports of locally acquired infections in U.S. territories.
Zika spreads mostly through Aedes mosquitos, but can also be sexually transmitted by an infected male or – based on experts’ educated theories – presumably blood transfusions. Most infected carriers show no or mild symptoms, but include fever, rashes, body aches, and headaches. But while there’s currently no cure for Zika, the vast majority of cases can be treated with rest, hydration, and pain relievers like acetaminophen.
The largest risk, however, is to women who contract the virus during pregnancy. Zika can cause brain, eye, ear, or other growth defects in their unborn babies. Additionally, there has been an increase in reports of Guillain-Barre syndrome due to Zika, which impairs the nervous system.
To prevent infection, the first line of defense is taking proper precautions to deter and block mosquito bites in the outdoors. Meanwhile, there are many tools available in Congress and federal agencies to protect the American public from Zika.
There are tests available for medical professionals to diagnose infection from the virus, but we need to make sure they’re widely distributed so that we can stay ahead of the outbreak. To control further spread, we must work with state and local leaders and health experts in each of the impacted areas to implement urgent mosquito control plans, and – most importantly – we must support the development of a vaccine at agencies like the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Since the beginning of 2015, other Members of Congress and I who serve on the House Energy & Commerce Committee have been examining America’s public health preparation and response to the Zika outbreak though hearings and meetings with experts and leaders across the Americas and here at home. Furthermore, we have taken several major legislative steps including the beginning of fast-track development for a Zika cure, removing regulatory barriers to killing mosquitoes carrying the virus with legislative action through the “Zika Vector Control Act,” and allocating more than $1 billion in funds to fight the virus.
Congress has been monitoring and planning for the Zika threat from the beginning of this outbreak. Our aim is to direct resources where they are most needed to stamp out this disease. Fighting this virus is a top priority of mine, and I will continue working closely with our health agencies and health experts to determine how best to stay out ahead of its spread until it’s stamped out for good.