President Obama and the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) are urging Congress to provide emergency funding, totaling some $1.8 billion, to combat the Zika virus.
The funding, as outlined in a letter from NACCHO to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees on February 16th, will be used to fund public health programs that are already attempting to prepare and respond to the virus. However, local health officials maintain that in order to effectively combat the virus, additional investments are immediately required.
NACCHO is a national non-profit association that represents approximately 2,800 local health departments throughout the US.
NACCHO Executive Director LaMar Hasbrouck, MD, MPH, said, “It is absolutely critical that new funding is made available to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health departments to be prepared for what will surely be an increased number of Zika virus disease cases in the future, perhaps as early as this spring. Since local health departments are on the front lines of community preparation and response, funding is needed for public education, mosquito eradication, investigation and vector control, refinement of diagnostics and vaccines, and expanded capacity to test people suspected of having contracted the disease.”
Currently, there are 82 confirmed cases of travel-associated Zika virus in the US. The virus itself is not new, but 2015 has marked its first widespread contact with North and South America. Zika is primarily spread through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. The most common symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness tends to be quite mild, so many people who are infected do not go to the hospital. Death from Zika is very rare.
However, the virus has been linked to birth defects, including microcephaly, a congenital neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by an abnormal smallness of the head.
There is no vaccination or medicine to treat Zika infections, and only the symptoms can be treated. The CDC recommends rest, fluids, and avoiding aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs.
Given the limited investments in public health infrastructure, new and increased funding against emergent threats like the Zika virus is needed. NACCHO has expressed their concern over the lack of sufficient funding regarding the infectious disease program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Without proper funding, organizations like the CDC will be ill-equipped to handle future outbreaks.