Zika “Scarier” Than Initially Thought, Top Health Official Says

About 30 states have the virus-carrying mosquito

At a White House briefing, Dr. Anne Schuchat, a deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, expressed concern about the threat the Zika virus poses to the United States. They said that the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which spreads the infection, is present in approximately 30 states and that hundreds of thousands of infections could be expected in Puerto Rico. Their remarks were included in a press release from Reuters.

“Everything we look at with this virus seems to be a bit scarier than we initially thought,” Schuchat said. She and Fauci encouraged Congress to pass the approximately $1.9 billion in emergency funding for Zika preparedness that the Obama administration requested in February.

The White House recently announced that, in the absence of these emergency funds, it will redirect $589 million, mostly from money already provided by Congress to fight the Ebola virus, to prepare for Zika before it begins to emerge in the continental U.S. as the weather grows warmer.

At the press briefing, Fauci said that if Congress does not provide emergency Zika funding, health officials likely would be forced to redirect money currently dedicated for research into malaria, tuberculosis, and a universal flu vaccine. He added that it appears the first Zika vaccine candidate is on target to enter initial clinical trials in September.

Schuchat declined to forecast the number of Zika virus infections that could occur in the continental U.S. While she did not expect large outbreaks, “we can’t assume we’re not going to have a big problem,” she said.

The World Health Organization has said there is a strong scientific consensus that Zika can cause microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with small heads that can result in developmental problems, as well as Guillain–Barré syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that can result in paralysis, although proof may take months or years to obtain.

Brazilian health officials recently reported that they have confirmed more than 1,046 cases of microcephaly. They consider most of the cases to be related to Zika infections in the mothers.

Source: Reuters; April 11, 2016.