WASHINGTON - The Obama administration's top doctor on infectious diseases is sounding the alarm about the Zika virus. He said that Congress has to act now and approve funding to combat the virus.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has an urgent message saying more money for Zika research is needed immediately. Some in Congress are fighting the push for more money saying there is enough federal funding and additional money will come through this fall.
So far, there have been no documented Zika infections from mosquitos in the United States. But nearly 350 illnesses have been reported across all 50 states. Each has been linked to Zika-infected areas and most cases are from the Caribbean or Latin America.
Some of the money to combat the Zika virus and help develop a vaccine is coming from funds used to fight Ebola and other areas. But Dr. Fauci warns it won't be enough.
“We don't have yet any designated Zika funds,” he said. “If we don't get designated Zika funds, we are going to have to slow down and just come to a halt because right now what we have done, we have pulled money from other areas, other things that are not Zika – things like malaria, tuberculosis and things like that.”
While Congress battles over funds for Zika research, researchers are learning more about the disease. Originally, the virus was only thought to be a threat to pregnant women in their first trimester or those trying to get pregnant. Now, they are finding abnormalities that are affecting a fetus in the second and third trimesters.
Prevention against the virus is really just about preventing mosquito bites. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. You can find permethrin-treated clothing to prevent mosquito bites.
Stay indoors with air conditioning, windows and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
If you are overseas or outside and not able to protect yourself, experts are encouraging those to sleep under a mosquito bed net.
Use EPA-registered insect repellent with the right active ingredient: DEET is the one we commonly hear about, but also look for lemon eucalyptus oil Picaridin or IR3535.
And remember, Zika can be sexually transmitted, so men who travel to these countries need to pay attention if they come down with a rash or fever. If they have a documented case, Dr. Fauci said men should abstain from sex or use a condom up to six months after the infection.