Shame, shame, shame on Congress. The abject failure to responsibly respond to the mounting Zika crisis shows a reckless negligence for the health of Americans. Upon adjourning last week for a seven-week break from partisan bickering and blame, representatives and senators fled Washington for calmer political climes elsewhere — once again shirking their obligations to the people.
The spreading Zika public health emergency reached Manatee County with its first case — travel related — confirmed Friday. While all of Florida’s more than 270 cases of Zika have been acquired outside the United States, the day will come when local Aedes aegypti mosquitoes pick up the virus from a human host and bite others. Zika can also be transmitted via unprotected sex.
Manatee County’s lone case prompted the Florida Department of Health to add Manatee County to the other 27 Zika counties on the “declaration of public health emergency” list. The county’s inevitable yet unfortunate status as another Zika site brings extra precautions to protect public health — from local mosquito control and the state.
Manatee County Mosquito Control working jointly with the state to contain the area around the infected person’s residence.
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The mosquito that carries the Zika virus as well as dengue and chikungunya only has a very limited range of territory during its short lifespan — typically two to four weeks, depending on conditions. The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adulticide treatments within 100–200 yards or meters around the home of an infected individual, reflecting that short range.
Manatee County Mosquito Control is now working jointly with the state DOH to contain the area around the infected person’s residence, even returning to apply an extra dose of precaution. Even before that particular case was confirmed, mosquito control treated suspicious areas, including spraying around the confirmed case. The agency’s aggressive response to this health threat is reassuring.
While the virus is a fairly minor ailment in adults, save for some, Zika is devastating to a fetus. The state DOH recently confirmed a baby with Zika-related microcephaly was born in Florida. The mother, a Haiti citizen, had a travel-related case of Zika and came to Florida to deliver her baby, officials said. The defect causes abnormally small heads and incomplete brain development. Babies with microcephaly often have a series of developmental problems, including intellectual disability, hearing loss and vision problems and problems with movement and balance. Most troubling, 43 Zika cases in Florida involve pregnant women.
The Aedes aegypti mosquitoes thrive in temperate climates and can be found across all the southern states and as far north as New Jersey and a slice of Connecticut as well as southern Ohio and portions of Kansas and Missouri. Perhaps that accounts for the political indifference to Zika legislation — the fact that the mosquito is not in almost half the United States and their people in Congress have nothing to gain politically by supporting emergency aid. Yet that runs counter to public opinion, in which a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found 72 percent of Americans of all political persuasions favor additional federal allocations to study Zika and prevent its spread. Politicians don’t listen to the people when pursuing an agenda driven by dogma, the factor crippling Washington with gridlock.
Six months after emergency declared, Congress has responded with political positions and nothing else.
Immediately after the World Health Organization declared the Zika virus a public health emergency on Feb. 1, President Obama requested $1.9 billion in emergency funding to attack the disease. Six months later, Congress has responded with political arguments and nothing else. The Senate did pass a bill authorizing $1.1 billion.
But the GOP-controlled House, meeting in conference committee with Senate Republicans, did not advance clean legislation free of riders but instead inserted political objectives outside the scope of Zika, attaching measures poisonous to passage by Senate Democrats — featuring limits on the Affordable Care Act and Planned Parenthood and lifting environmental restrictions. Thus, the legislation died. The senseless provision on Planned Parenthood banned government funding of contraceptives — a valuable weapon against Zika, which can be transmitted sexually.
The $1.9 billion is vital to treating the devastating disease, funding vaccine research and paying for a major increase in mosquito control. Even though the administration transferred $600 million from an existing ebola account to combat Zika, federal health officials and others say that is not enough to wage an immediate and effective response to the outbreak. Today, those officials say a batch of anti-Zika strategies will be postponed because of the lack of funding.
Public health and safety are government’s primary responsibilities. But not in a politically motivated Congress. Not even in a public health emergency. Shame, shame, shame.