Zika Threat No Cause for US Travel Restrictions

     (CN) — The Zika threat doesn’t warrant restrictions for pregnant women traveling within the continental United States, despite the likelihood of experiencing at least one outbreak of the mosquito-borne virus in the coming months, a top U.S. health official said.
     Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNBC on Monday that pregnant women should avoid traveling to American territories experiencing active local transmission, including Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
     But pregnant women should not be discouraged from traveling to other U.S. states, he said.
     “To tell someone not to travel within the continental U.S. is not true,” Fauci told CNBC.
     Fauci said that restricting pregnant women’s travel within the continental U.S. is unnecessary since there is currently no active local transmission of Zika, though he also told Fox News Sunday that there will likely be at least one outbreak in the nation this summer.
     “The threat of at least having some local outbreak is likely, I would think. It’s up to us now to make sure that once it happens, we contain it,” Fauci told Fox News Sunday.
     Fauci compared the threat of Zika with local transmission of dengue, stating that there would need to be dozens of infections before a local outbreak is possible.
     “We’ve started on the issue of mosquito control, public health issues, we’ve already started on the development of a vaccine, which is going to take some time, as well as the screening of drugs,” Fauci said.
     The Aedes aegypti mosquito, the primary carrier of the Zika virus, is present in about 30 U.S. states, mostly in the South. The mosquito is more common in warm areas, which has prompted health officials to warn that outbreaks may occur during the summer months.
     Pregnant women are especially at risk due to Zika’s connection to microcephaly, a congenital disorder that leads to babies being born with reduced head size and brain damage.
     The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed on April 13 that Zika is connected to microcephaly, after months of speculation.
     The United States has seen 350 cases of Zika infections, contracted in a foreign country experiencing local outbreaks or through sexual contact with an individual who had the virus.
     Health officials said recently that a man in Dallas transmitted the virus to his partner through anal sex, the first such known case.
     The CDC has reportedly been debating whether to recommend that women delay getting pregnant, due to Zika’s connection to microcephaly and a series of other birth defects. Such a recommendation would likely be controversial.
     Previously, the CDC recommended that women who have recently traveled to areas experiencing active transmission use contraception or abstain from sexual contact. A similar warning was given to men.
     The World Health Organization declared Zika a global health emergency in February. Zika outbreaks were initially reported last year in Brazil, and more than 30 nations in Latin America and the Caribbean have experienced active local transmission.
     The White House requested about $1.9 billion in funding to combat Zika. The Republican-led Congress has so far rejected the request, insisting that the Obama administration use leftover funds from the Ebola fight instead.
     Congressional Republicans have said that they are not opposed to providing additional funding to fight Zika, but that they want to see more proof of what the money is going toward.
     “We’re certainly fine probably through the end of the fiscal year, so it’s not like we have to do something today,” Rep. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican and chair of the House panel responsible for the CDC and the National Institutes of Health, said. “But we do need to do something in the foreseeable future, and I would think before the end of the fiscal year.”
     The fiscal year ends Oct. 1.
     Republicans said that they viewed September as a good time to take up the issue of additional Zika funding.
     While federal health officials argue that additional money to fight Zika is necessary, they are doing what they can with their current budget.
     “We’re moving money from other areas to do Zika, hopefully we’ll get the Zika money soon so that we can really go full-blown,” Fauci said.

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