Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today released the following statement in support of emergency spending to combat the Zika virus. Feinstein supported the Obama Administration’s $1.9 billion funding request, which did not pass the Senate. She then voted in favor of a bipartisan compromise offered by Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) that totals $1.1 billion. The compromise passed 68-29.
"The Zika virus is a rapidly-growing public health threat, and the stakes for women are particularly high. I strongly believe Congress should approve the full $1.9 billion requested by the administration to fight the virus. Investing the required resources now will mean fewer cases of Zika down the road.
"The virus is carried by two species of mosquito. They are found in 40 states in this country. These mosquitos have been found in 12 counties in California, including the five most populous—Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino. More than 20 million people live in these counties.
"There have been 503 travel-related cases in the United States so far—meaning an individual was infected during a trip to Latin America, South America, or the Caribbean, where the virus is widespread.
"There have not yet been any reported cases of local transmission in the continental United States, although more than 700 cases have been reported in U.S. territories, including one fatality on April 29th. It’s only a matter of when, not if, we see the first case of local transmission—particularly as we approach the summer, when mosquitos are most active. By July, seven states are expected to see high mosquito activity.
"While scientists are still working to understand the effects of the Zika virus, they are more serious than we initially thought. Zika causes severe, brain-related birth defects in babies when women are infected during pregnancy.
"Microcephaly, one of the most serious effects of Zika, causes babies’ heads to be much smaller than normal. In severe cases you will also see seizures, developmental delays, intellectual disabilities, feeding problems, and hearing and vision loss.
"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to research the virus, and it could be several years before the full-range of health effects is known.
"The most common way people contract Zika virus is through mosquito bites. But there have been documented cases of the virus being spread from men to women through sexual contact. And, scientists now believe sexual transmission is more common than initially thought.
"Zika symptoms are mild—fever, rash, and joint pain—meaning that many people may become infected and spread with disease without knowing they have it. Unless we act now, we could end up with a significant number of Zika carriers who don’t know they’re infected.
"As I mentioned previously, the administration has asked Congress for $1.9 billion in emergency funding to stop the spread of the Zika virus. Senator Nelson introduced a bill, which I have cosponsored, to provide the full $1.9 billion. Senator Nelson and Senator Rubio have also introduced an amendment to the bill currently under consideration to provide the full $1.9 billion. And last week, an agreement was reached between Senators Murray and Blunt on an amendment that would provide $1.1 billion in funding.
"I applaud their efforts, and know they worked hard to come to agreement on a package that could get broad bipartisan support. The federal government will use these funds for a number of prevention and mitigation activities, including controlling mosquito populations, researching and testing for the virus, educating the public and developing a vaccine.
"However, I think it’s important to highlight what we’re losing by funding the Zika response at $1.1 billion and not $1.9 billion. Reduced funding now will hinder our response in a number of ways.
"It will be harder to address Zika in the future, with a potentially higher cost. Notably, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will receive nearly $300 million less. The National Institutes of Health will receive $77 million less. The Health and Human Services Emergency Fund will receive $83 million less. This means that testing may not be as widely available as it should be. And, developing a vaccine may take longer.
"There is also $114 million less to fight Zika abroad. We live in a global society. To prevent the spread of Zika virus, we must fight the disease where it is—not wait for it to come here.
"It’s also important to note that we can’t launch prevention and mitigation activities overnight. It takes time to address mosquito populations and distribute testing kits. If we don’t approve the necessary funds now and Zika spreads, funds approved later may not be as effective.
"Past is prologue and we’ve seen the effects of similar health crises. I remember when rubella was widespread in the United States, before a vaccine was available. This is also a disease with mild symptoms. It spread easily and was particularly dangerous for pregnant women and their babies.
"The rubella vaccination campaign in 1969 was critical to stopping this disease, which infected 12.5 million people from 1964-1965. In 2004, the United States was declared rubella-free. We’re down to an average of 11 travel-related cases per year.
"The point is, we know enough about the Zika virus to understand that it’s a serious threat. We also know from history how important it is to address public health threats as early as possible. This is especially important when the virus is carried by an insect as common as mosquitoes and the initial symptoms of the disease are mild or even undetectable.
"In closing, Congress cannot afford to delay. I strongly urge the Senate to approve the administration’s sensible request to fight this growing public health threat."