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Zika Part II: Bigger Than Ebola?

THE GAME-CHANGER

On July 29, 2016, Florida Governor Rick Scott announced what the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes for Health, and many people both inside and outside of the public health community have feared: the first cases of local transmission of the Zika virus had been identified in Miami-Dade County, Florida. As of this writing, 21 people have been infected through local transmission of the virus, and it has spread to neighboring Broward and Palm Beach Counties. The CDC issued its first ever health-related travel advisory for mainland U.S for a one square mile area north of downtown Miami. In an abundance of caution but nonetheless indicating another possible route of transmission and an increased level of threat, the Food and Drug Administration called for a halt of blood donations in the area.

What is the significance of local transmission? Before the outbreak in Miami had been identified, all of the estimated 1,800 Zika cases in the United States were travel-associated cases, meaning the people infected had traveled to places with active Zika outbreaks and contracted the virus in those locations. Now, however, the virus is breeding indigenously, and that creates a whole new level of risk. The CDC fears that Zika can spread beyond Florida and across the South.

ZIKA FACTS

The Zika virus is most commonly spread by the bite of an infected Aedes species of mosquito, although the virus can also be spread between sexual partners. (For more detailed information on transmission, see our previous blog on the Zika virus posted in May). Infection during pregnancy is particularly dangerous because the virus can be passed from a pregnant woman to her baby, causing certain birth defects. The most notable of these is a birth defect called microcephaly, in which the brain does not develop properly, often resulting in intellectual disability, poor motor function, and even death. Currently there is no vaccine for the prevention of Zika, and no medicine for the virus once a person is infected.

ZIKA FUNDING

The previous Thomas Law blog on Zika discussed President Obama's funding request sent to Congress in February of this year. Recognizing the very real risk of indigenous outbreaks, and the large number of people with travel-related cases who are or may become pregnant, the President sought funding for prevention, control and medical efforts. As reported in May, the Senate passed a bill allocating $1.1 billion. Since then, the House took up the bill for consideration. It added partisan provisions and reduced the funding to $600 million. The bill did not pass, and Congress left for their summer recess (not to reconvene until after Labor Day) without approving any funding for Zika control, prevention, and care.

Without adequate funding, the question of how to handle infants born to the hundreds of pregnant women infected with Zika now in the U.S. looms large. Statistically, a percentage of those babies will have birth defects, including the life-threatening defect microcephaly. The first known Zika-related infant death was just announced in Harris County, Texas. A mother there contracted Zika while in Latin America, and her child was born with several Zika-related birth defects, including microcephaly.

Equally as troubling is the question of how to fund the control and prevention efforts necessary to combat local transmission and outbreaks. On June 23, before the indigenous outbreak, Florida Governor Rick Scott announced he would use his executive authority to allocate $26.2 million in state funds for Zika preparedness, prevention and response. Since the outbreak, Florida has asked the CDC for additional funding beyond the $8 million it has already sent; the $720,000 announced by the CDC in response is not considered to be sufficient.

WHAT TO DO

The CDC advises people to take the following measures to prevent the spread of the Zika virus:

Remove or dump standing water and spray the areas that contained the water with a mosquito repellant;

Spray areas containing water not used for drinking that cannot be covered or dumped out;

Wear mosquito repellant;

Wear long sleeves and pants when outdoors;

Limit time outdoors; stay in air conditioning as much as possible

CONTACT YOUR ATTORNEY

If you have questions or concerns regarding the Zika virus, contact the CDC offices here in Atlanta, or visit their website at CDC.gov. If you have suffered financial or physical harm due to the Zika virus and its impact in the U.S., contact Dave Thomas for an evaluation of your legal rights.

Categories: News, Liability, CDC warnings
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