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Patrick Murphy says Congress needs to step up to the plate on Zika funding

Two new cases of the Zika virus were reported in Palm Beach and Broward counties on Friday, making for a total of 84 confirmed cases in the state. Officials say an outbreak of the Zika virus in Florida is still a very real possibility.

Last week, South Florida Democratic Congressman and U.S. Senate hopeful Patrick Murphy met with doctors at the Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter to learn what they’re doing to attempt to combat the virus.

“We cannot expect a cure overnight,” Murphy wrote to FloridaPolitics.com on Sunday. “A vaccine could take as long as two years or more, which is why we should commit the resources now and play offense instead of defense if it begins spreading through Florida and the rest of the continental United States. Not only does Zika pose a threat to public health, but also as we have seen in Brazil, it is having a major detrimental impact on tourism. A similar situation would be devastating to Florida’s economy. We also cannot ignore the reality of climate change and the increasing prevalence of tropical diseases in places where they have not been before.  The work done at institutes like Scripps is already forward-looking, and Congress must commit to consistent, adequate funding to remain ahead of emerging threats.”

The mosquito-borne Zika virus which is spreading in Latin America and the Caribbean, normally causes only mild symptoms, if any, in adults.

It’s raised alarms around the world, however, after Brazilian health officials reported an apparent surge in babies born with microcephaly, which can signal their brains didn’t develop properly. Reports have documented traces of the virus in the brains of affected babies who died soon after birth, and in fetal brain tissue after abortion.

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Last week the Obama administration said they couldn’t wait any longer for Congress to approve funding on Zika, and announced they were shifting about $500 million in Ebola funds to work on the virus.  The White House has requested $1.9 billion fight the Zika virus, and Marco Rubio, the man Murphy hopes to replace later the year, said he would support it.

“I want to ensure that I work with my fellow Republicans in both the House and Senate to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to get my colleagues to be supportive of it,” Rubio said.

Murphy says he was important to hear those remarks.

“With over 80 cases reported in Florida to date, I have been pleased to see our Florida Congressional Delegation come together to act in a bipartisan manner already on several initiatives to combat the threat the Zika virus poses to public health and our tourism-driven economy,” Murphy says. “I am hopeful that Congress as a whole will swiftly follow suit as we did in 2014 with emergency funding for Ebola. The Administration’s actions this week are a good first start, but Congress needs to step up to the plate.  With so much unknown about this virus, we cannot afford to wait to act.”

An AP-NORC poll released last week shows that most Americans have little clue about the Zika virus. While 60 percent said they knew a little or a lot about it, nearly four in ten Americans – 39 percent – said they only knew a little about it, or knew nothing about it.

Murphy says that the need for more public awareness about the Zika virus came up in his meetings with both Scripps scientists and Dr. Anne Schuchat with the Centers for Disease Control.

Fortunately, the Florida Department of Public Health seems to have a strong leg up on dealing with dengue fever, another mosquito-borne illness,” he says.

“In 2013, Martin County in my district faced a small-scale dengue outbreak that was quickly halted through concerted mosquito control and a mosquito bite prevention campaign.  Those efforts and lessons learned will become essential to limiting Zika transmission during the summer when mosquitoes are most active and Floridians are enjoying outdoor recreation. I have included a Zika CDC feature on my Congressional website, and I have also been sharing with constituents on social media some of the simple steps they can take to prevent mosquito bites like wearing repellent and draining standing water.”

Written By

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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