Health leaders and elected officials made a plea Thursday for Congress to approve emergency funding for Zika response before leaving for summer recess in a week.
In February, President Barack Obama requested $1.9 billion in emergency funding for Zika response and preparation. No congressional funding has been approved.
“We know the risk is growing every day,” Amy Pope, deputy homeland security advisor at the White House, said during a telephone press conference.
“Zika is an emergency and we need congress to respond that way,” Pope said.
Although there have been no locally transmitted cases of the disease by mosquito in the United States, Puerto Rico is experiencing an increase in cases and there have been a number of cases in the United States from people who have been infected with the virus during trips overseas.
“The president directed all of us to accelerate response to this disease,” Pope said.
Dr. Ed McCabe, chief medical officer with the March of Dimes, said the only advantage of watching a virus slowly unfold is the chance for unaffected areas to get prepared.
“Unfortunately, the United States is on the verge of squandering that advantage,” McCabe said. “The news about Zika is not getting better.”
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So far, there are 1,133 cases reported in the United States and an additional 2,534 cases in the United States territories. Of those, 320 pregnant women with Zika have been identified in the United States and 279 in the U.S. territories.
“Each case is a tragedy,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Those numbers are lower than the actual number of infected people, he said, because four out of five people who get the virus either show no symptoms or have very mild symptoms.
Regardless of the symptoms shown, the virus can still cause serious birth defects if a mother catches the virus while carrying her child.
“The more we learn about Zika, the more concerned we are,” Frieden said.
Although the House of Representatives passed a bill that would have provided a portion of the requested funding, there were so many politically motivated attachments that it “wasn’t a serious solution,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.
Nelson said the end result has been that the National Institutes of Health have already been forced to tap into funding for malaria and tuberculosis to pay for research into a Zika vaccine.
“Yet this is how this Zika crisis is being treated,” he said.
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Without the requested funding, agencies aren’t able start the next vaccine trials, work on mosquito control and research, or develop a way to get more rapid test results, Pope said.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter @awold10.