Top Obama administration public health officials are putting pressure on Congress for more funding for efforts to fight the Zika virus — warning that it’s more widespread and poses a bigger threat than initially thought.
“Instead of about 12 states with the mosquito [carrying the virus], we believe about 30 states have the mosquito present,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a White House briefing with reporters Monday. “We also learned that the virus is likely to be a problem during much of the pregnancy period, not just probably the first trimester but potentially throughout the pregnancy.”
Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Health, speak about the Zika virus during a press briefing at the White House Monday. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
Previously, administration officials sought to reassure the public that Zika, a mosquito-borne illness, primarily affects pregnant women. Since President Barack Obama first asked Congress for $1.9 billion, researchers found that the disease can also be sexually transmitted, can affect pregnant women beyond the first trimester and can cause severe neurological problems for unborn babies.
Last week, the administration announced it was using $600 million from leftover Ebola funds to fight Zia. But National Institute of Health Director Antony Fauci said that is only a “stop-gap measure.”
"I'm not an alarmist and most of you who know me know that I am not, but the more we learn about the neurological aspects, the more we look around and say this is very serious,” Fauci said at the briefing, adding that, if the administration doesn’t get the money, it wouldn’t be able to adequately fight the virus.
“If we don’t get the money the president has asked for, we are not going to be able to take it to the point where we’ve accomplished what we want to do,” Fauci said. "I don’t have what I need right now, what I’ve done is take money from other areas of non-Zika research to start.”
He added, "When the president asked for $1.9 billion, we needed $1.9 billion."
Dough Andres, a spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said that the White House was trying to “politicize” the response to Zika and that, if funding is needed, Congress will address the matter.
A statement from the House Appropriations Committee declared: “As we move forward, the Appropriations Committee will continue to monitor the changing needs resulting from this unpredictable crisis to assure the resources necessary for the response are available.”
Schuchat also warned about attending the Olympics in Brazil this year.
"We know the Olympics is just a wonderful event and that athletes have been training for their whole lives to go there. We really want to make sure people know if they are pregnant they should defer travel," Schuchat said. "We also want people to know that travel to the area may lead to silent infections or infections with symptoms. Following symptoms, it’s very important to take precautions during sex not to spread the virus. That type of information has been shared with the Olympic committee and the CDC has worked close with the Olympic medical committee."