Reed Questions Federal Health Officials on Zika Preparedness & Response


WASHINGTON, DC – As public health officials continue working to prevent a major
outbreak of the Zika virus in the United States, U.S. Senator Jack Reed today
questioned the Directors of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases about the
government’s preparation and planned response to the virus, which is spread by
mosquitoes and is thought to cause birth defects. Reed urged the federal officials
to pursue a coordinated approach to support state and local agencies dealing with
the virus response.

During the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations
Subcommittee hearing, Dr. Thomas Frieden, Director of the CDC, and Dr. Anthony
Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases,
testified that the Zika virus is not a major threat to most of the population. The
officials said their primary focus is on protecting pregnant women.

Senator Reed emphasized the need for coordination between federal agencies and a
necessity to support public health departments and preventative activities at the
state and local level.

«In terms of the state and local level, are you coordinating with the state public
health departments and other agencies for spraying mosquitoes? You mentioned that
the state health departments are really the point of contact for pregnant women who
have concerns, can you elaborate on your coordination with state and local?» asked

«We work very closely with state, tribal, territorial and local health departments
and mosquito control districts, which can sometimes be separate areas. In fact, one
of the key components of the emergency supplemental request is to provide funding to
do better at tracking and stopping the growth of mosquito populations,» answered Dr.

This week, President Obama announced that he was seeking $1.8 billion in emergency
funding from Congress to combat the Zika virus through a combination of mosquito
control programs, vaccine research, education, and improving health care for
low-income pregnant women.

The Zika virus has spread rapidly in South America, Central America and Caribbean
countries like Puerto Rico, and the CDC is cautioning pregnant women to avoid travel
to those affected areas. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the Zika
virus to be an international public health emergency, warning that the virus is
strongly suspected to be the cause of a cluster of cases of microcephaly, a
condition in which babies are born with incomplete brain development and abnormally
small heads.

Earlier this month, Senator Reed sent a
urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to enhance
preparedness and coordinate with and support local public health departments that
are on the frontlines of diagnosing and preventing cases of Zika and other
mosquito-borne illnesses in the United States. In addition, Reed has urged the
federal government to prioritize research and development of a Zika vaccine.

During the hearing, Reed also encouraged the federal officials to look ahead to the
next mosquito-borne threat, as the warmer summer months approach.

«One aspect in particular that I find intriguing is identifying the problem at the
earliest possible stage. We know the Zika virus – a mosquito-borne virus – is the
current issue, but we can all expect there will be another wave of mosquito-borne
viruses and what are we doing in terms of coordinating efforts between departments
to try to identify the next threat as well as deal with this one?,» Reed questioned.

The WHO estimates up to four million people worldwide could be infected with the
virus by the end of the year.