Vern Buchanan sounds alarm for Florida to get its share of Zika funding


With Florida’s mosquito season well underway, public health officials and lawmakers are hoping the federal government will come through with more money to combat the Zika virus before current funding expires later this year.

“Zika is a serious threat to Florida,” Sarasota Congressman Vern Buchanan said Thursday. “Our country’s top disease fighters need the funding and resources necessary to protect the public.”

Buchanan met for about a half hour with Dr. Anne Schuchat, the acting director of the Centers for Disease and Control, to discuss actions that need to be taken in Florida to effectively combat the mosquito-borne disease as the summer heats up. Schuchat said most of Florida is still at risk for transmission, with “first infections probably happened at barbecues on the Fourth of July weekend” last year.

Concerns regarding the Zika virus cross party lines. Earlier in June, Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson sent a letter to Dr. Tom Price, secretary of Health and Human Services, expressing concern about President Donald Trump‘s announced budget plan that includes cutting $7.2 billion from the National Institutes of Health that supports vaccine development research.

In his letter, Nelson noted that $35 million would be slashed from the CDC’s Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, another $65 million in cuts for emerging infectious diseases, and $135 million would be slashed from the CDC’s public health preparedness.

“Families in Florida and throughout the country deserve better,” Nelson wrote. “I urge you to reconsider these cuts, and I stand ready to work with you to provide the resources our country needs to respond to the Zika virus.”

The Zika virus is a mosquito-transmitted pathogen closely related to viruses for West Nile, yellow fever, and dengue. It spreads to humans primarily through the bite of infected mosquitoes. But, unlike similar viruses, Zika can also be transmitted through unprotected sex with an infected person, even if they don’t have symptoms. Pregnant women can pass it to their fetus.

Florida was hit with nearly 1,400 cases last year, mainly around Miami, through travel-based infections beginning in the spring. This year, the state has reported 88 Zika infections already, 69 of which are travel-related, according to the Florida Department of Health.

In 2016, more than 200 pregnant women were among Florida’s cases, with 108 having delivered. Three of those infants were born with microcephaly or other neurological complications, state health officials said.

On Thursday, officials in Nueces County, Texas confirmed its first case of the Zika virus. The case is reported to be travel-related because the patient had recently traveled to Mexico, where she contracted the virus.

Mitch Perry

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 [email protected].


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