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In a typical display of political posturing, the Senate this week voted down a bill that would have provided the CDC and state and local health agencies with a total of $1.1 billion to monitor and prevent the spread of Zika. Neither party is willing to budge on what it does and does not want included in the bill, and it’s looking likely that Congress will go into its July 4 recess without giving health agencies the funding they need right in the middle of mosquito season.
The Zika stalemate has been going on since February, when President Obama first requested $1.9 billion from Congress. With more than 800 known cases of Zika in the United States, including 265 pregnant women, CDC officials are afraid they’ve missed the boat on mosquito control measures and monitoring pregnancies. Americans are becoming increasingly aware of Zika and the risks it poses, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll: 73% of respondents support increased funding from Congress to research and prevent the spread of Zika.
The CDC will send expert teams to any community at the states’ request, to help with monitoring, testing, and mosquito control. But without the critical funding from Congress, local agencies are left to do what they can with the limited resources at hand – highlighting disparities in resources between states.
New York state and Lee County, FL, have well-funded and extensive mosquito control and Zika response plans. Lee County — in an area of the country with the biggest risk for Zika — has spray trucks, four planes, and 11 helicopters to be deployed in case of an outbreak. The arsenal would spray the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in a one-square-mile radius of the outbreak site. New York designated 21 health clinics and EDs to be on the lookout for locally contracted cases, and it has a call center that can approve Zika testing requests from physicians. New York City officials distributed Zika information cards and advertise travel warnings in the subways.
But not every state and municipality has such resources. Alabama, another high-risk Southern state, increased Zika testing capacity at state labs, but rural areas have very few government employees. The state is advising residents to eliminate as much standing water at home as possible and distribute information coloring books to elementary school students. Dona Ana County, NM, also is using the coloring book approach (which can be viewed here). Other municipalities have only a few parks employees who already are stretched thin on maintenance tasks.
So far, it appears that all of the known cases of Zika in the United States are travel-related and have not been spread through mosquitoes here. However, that situation could change quickly, and the CDC’s hands have been tied for more than four months in the wait for funding. Public health is the one issue with which Congress should not play politics.