Partisanship on Zika Could Lead |to Outbreak, Senate Dems Warn

     MANHATTAN (CN) — If Republicans reject the White House’s request for $1.9 billion in Zika virus prevention, sporadic infections detected across 41 states could explode into a “full-fledged outbreak,” Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer warned in a conference call on Wednesday.
     “Wasting time is not a good idea here,” he added.
     Exactly one week ago, federal health officials confirmed a link between the virus and birth defects for the first time, and House Republicans chose that day to host a conference call insisting that funding would have to wait until September.
     Democratic senators from New York, Connecticut and Florida emphasized Wednesday that Congress does not have the luxury of time for such delay.
     The White House has already diverted nearly $600 million in unspent Ebola funds toward the effort to stem Zika, but additional funding has become more urgent after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report confirming Zika’s link to microcephaly, a congenital birth defect derived from the Latin word for “small head.”
     Dr. Peter Hotez, a dean at the Baylor College of Medicine who specializes in tropical diseases, said that the condition is actually more disturbing than the pictures of deformed newborns with which it is associated.
     In many cases, the doctor explained, babies with the condition are born with a “nearly absent brain.”
     He added, “This is every mother’s worst nightmare.”
     Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, said that 91 Zika cases have been confirmed in the Sunshine State alone, and conditions are ripe to get worse.
     “We’re coming into the summer, and that’s when mosquitoes swarm,” he said.
     Nelson celebrated what he called a “little victory” on Tuesday with the Senate’s passage of legislation for drug companies to produce a vaccine.
     Still, he noted that is not enough for a disease that the World Health Organization says meets the criteria of a “public health emergency of international concern” and the CDC described as “scarier than initially thought.”
     Sen. Chris Murphy, whose state of Connecticut has seen 41 infections, noted that the 358 cases found so far nationwide may understate the true number because symptoms are not always apparent.
     Quipping that mosquitoes do not check for party affiliations, Murphy wondered when public health epidemics turned into a partisan issue.
     “To me, it’s so disappointing because it’s not a Democratic virus, it’s not a Republican virus,” he said.
     Hotez gave a grim prognosis, noting that the disease is going to hit Puerto Rico and is “already decimating Haiti.”
     Ron Klain, a former White House Ebola response coordinator, cited the 2014 midterm elections as a precedent for overcoming partisanship to respond to a scourge.
     Pushing through a funding bill five weeks after the contest, Klain said that his team helped win the passage of legislation signed by President Barack Obama that “made a huge difference in bending the curve of Ebola in West Africa.”
     If legislators fail and an outbreak spreads, Klain predicted the public will view the government’s inaction the same way history judged the response to Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil disaster.

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