Vail Daily column: Working to combat the Zika virus
Recently, the Zika virus has been elevated to a pandemic by the National Institute of Health and the Centers for Disease Control has called the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
The virus, which often causes no symptoms or mild symptoms in most adults, can lead to serious conditions including paralysis caused by Guillain-Barre syndrome. Of more concern to many families is the link to birth defects in newborns. Pregnant women who contract Zika may have children born with microcephaly, a birth defect in which a baby’s head is smaller than expected that can lead to developmental disorders.
The outbreak has spread from the Asian Pacific to South and Central America and Mexico. The CDC estimates that there have been more than 500 travel-related cases of Zika in the U.S., 48 of which were pregnant women. Compare that to the 2014 Ebola scare when only four Americans contracted the disease due to travel abroad.
As the virus continues to spread, it has become more apparent that we don’t know enough about Zika, particularly about how we can prevent it from hurting our kids. The CDC’s Fort Collins-based Division for Vector-Borne Diseases is now the leading research facility for Zika. The division focuses on illnesses carried by insects such as mosquitoes and ticks.
In 2011, our office blocked an attempt by the administration to cut more than $20 million from the Fort Collins center. The cuts would have virtually eliminated the program in Fort Collins and jeopardized our ability to monitor and slow epidemics like this one. We worked with fellow Colorado lawmakers and leading scientists to prevent these short-sighted cuts.
Today, the division needs more resources to battle Zika. In response to the current outbreak, Sen. Cory Gardner and I met with researchers at the Fort Collins division for a briefing on their efforts to fight the disease. Since the December outbreak in Brazil, this facility has been an active part of the response. They have sent epidemiologists as well as laboratory teams to Brazil to assist with diagnostics. In the U.S. they run the primary testing facility for potential cases of Zika. They are currently working with the National Institute of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the state’s academic partners like Colorado State University’s Biosecurity Level 3 Vaccine Manufacturing Facility, and others in the bioscience sector to develop products for diagnostics, vaccines or treatments.
We’re incredibly fortunate to have some of the nation’s best and brightest working on this issue right here in Colorado, and they need support from Congress to do their jobs. The CDC has reported that research could slow to a halt without additional resources. The administration requested $1.9 billion for the CDC and other agencies battling Zika. We led the fight in the Senate to pass $1.1 billion in funding, and we are pressing Congress to pass the remaining funds.
At the start of summer and mosquito season families across the country, especially pregnant women, are rightfully concerned about the growing threat of Zika. As the outbreak grows we have a responsibility to ensure we are doing everything we can to protect our kids from this preventable virus. Congressional dysfunction is not an acceptable excuse to keep research facilities from doing their work, and we are committed to continuing to fight for these resources for Colorado families.
Michael Bennet is the senior U.S. senator from Colorado.
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