As the Zika virus continues to spread – especially in the islands of the Caribbean – it is important to stay informed as you travel this summer. The Zika virus is contracted primarily through bites from a particular species of mosquito. While no cases of the disease have originated in the contiguous United States, individuals living in or visiting the United States territories of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa have contracted the virus there.
Before 2007, there were only 14 documented cases of the Zika virus and it was known to be more present in areas of Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. By May of 2015, the first confirmed cases of Zika were reported in Brazil and it has been spreading ever since. As of this month, the outbreak has affected 503 people in the United States who traveled to Zika-impacted countries and territories as well as 698 people from the territories themselves. The Zika virus is particularly challenging to address since there is currently no vaccine and the main way to prevent infection is to avoid mosquito bites.
For many people, Zika infection will not cause severe illness and may only last up to a week. It does, however, pose a major threat to women who are pregnant. The virus can be passed from the mother to the baby, and has been linked to brain defects in babies that could potentially cause long-term developmental disabilities. For this reason, the CDC has recommended that pregnant women avoid travel to areas where Zika-infected mosquitoes can be found.
Though there have been Zika contractions in the states, it is important that we begin taking steps to ensure it does not spread further. Recently, the House of Representatives passed a responsible bill to combat the Zika outbreak. The bill provides immediate funding that will last through the end of this fiscal year. The funds are completely offset by previously unused resources from the Ebola outbreak and through other administrative adjustments.
Unlike the funding request from the Obama Administration, the House proposal includes strong oversight to be sure taxpayer dollars are used solely for the Zika outbreak and in the manner Congress intended to fight the disease. This includes vaccine research and efforts to assist the local responses to the disease. I hope this legislation will continue to move forward so we can get control over this outbreak.
As you plan for your summer travel, be sure to stay up to date on the status of the outbreak and to learn more about the virus visit www.cdc.gov. If you have questions about this or any other issues facing the federal government, I invite you to call my Washington, D.C. office at (202) 225-2015, Hilliard office at (614) 771-4968, Lancaster office at (740) 654-2654 or Wilmington office (937) 283-7049.
Steve Stivers is a member of Congress from Ohio’s 15th Congressional District.