U.S. Study Raises New Concern for Zika Spread; Congress Back, but Just 19 Days Left to Solve Zika Funding Impasse.

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According to a Reuters report, a new study has found genetic fragments of Zika in the eyes and the tears of laboratory mice infected with the virus–a finding that offers a potential new route of human infection.

“Our study suggests that the eye could be a reservoir for Zika virus,” said Dr. Michael Diamond of Washington University St. Louis, whose paper was published in the journal Cell Reports. “We need to consider whether people with Zika have infectious virus in their eyes and how long it actually persists.”

For the study, the team infected adult mice under the skin, resembling the way people get infected by mosquito bites, and found live virus in the eyes a week later. When tested 28 days later, the tears of infected mice contained genetic material from the virus, but not infectious virus.

#ZikaVirus could be spread through tears according to a new study Click To Tweet

The researchers said their findings raise the possibility that Zika could be spread through contact with the tears of infected people, but said that would have to be proven.

“We are planning studies in people to find out whether infectious virus persists in the cornea or other compartments of the eye, because that would have implications for corneal transplantation,” said Dr. Rajendra Apte, a senior author of the study.

Other blood-borne viruses such as herpes simplex virus have been transmitted accidentally through corneal transplants.

Although principally spread by mosquitoes, Zika has been shown to persist in sites of the body where the immune system is less active, including semen, vaginal fluid, saliva and now, possibly, tears. That could help account for why Zika has spread so quickly, outpacing what might be expected if the virus were only carried by mosquitoes, Diamond said.

“Sexual transmission is probably not playing a major role, but it could be some other bodily fluid–saliva, or urine or tears,” he said.

Zika infections in pregnant women have been shown to cause microcephaly–a severe birth defect in which the head and brain are undersized–as well as other brain abnormalities. The connection between Zika and microcephaly first came to light last fall in Brazil, which has since confirmed more than 1,800 cases of microcephaly. In adults, Zika infections have also been linked to a rare neurological syndrome known as Guillain-Barre, as well as other neurological disorders.

Steve’s Take: Zika’s back in the news. That’s right. It’s not going away, which our lawmakers seem to think it will if they just ignore it long enough. More on Congress later.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports over 16,000 cases of the virus in the United States and its territories as of August 31, 2016. While the vast majority of the reported cases are associated with travel to areas outside the United States, 56 people have recently acquired the virus from mosquitoes in southern Florida.

As if that’s not discouraging enough, according to the BBC late Tuesday, men and women returning from any area where the Zika virus is circulating should practice safe sex for at least six months to avoid the risk of spreading the disease, says the World Health Organization.

The advice now applies even if a person has no symptoms. Wow.

That should be really easy-to-follow advice: Safe sex for just six months if you’ve been anywhere where Zika is circulating? Well that’s just over 60 countries so far, including all of the Americas. The advice would technically apply to anyone living in or traveling to the U.S., since Zika is circulating here. Previously, WHO had said men without symptoms only needed to use condoms or abstain from sex for eight weeks as a precaution against spreading Zika.

Healthy adults aren’t at much risk for signs and symptoms of the disease and many are unaware they’re infected. But Zika in pregnancy is the major concern because the virus can inflict serious neurological damage in the unborn child.

In a related event Tuesday, Congress returned after a seven-week hiatus from their “Watch Us Wrangle” jobs with Speaker Paul Ryan promising a spending bill by month’s end to keep the government operating. The abbreviated, election-season session will last only about 20 days. You heard that right! Twenty whole days back to their “Watch Us Pretend to Govern” cabaret after a seven-week vacation.

Lawmakers are scheduled to leave town again in early October to return home and campaign, says a U.S. News report. Shucks, the scheduler must be a really cruel dude to force them back to their home towns to do what they apparently must do. I really feel for them.

Yes, there’s a lot on the docket, but there’s only one thing that Congress must do in the coming month: Figure out a way to keep the government open before spending legislation expires Oct. 1. Well, two things, actually.

It may seem like a simple task, but as in previous years, policy disputes between the two parties have kept the House and Senate from completing the required spending bills by the deadline. That means lawmakers will have to pass legislation to extend current spending and keep the government open just weeks before the November election.

Ryan said on a Wisconsin radio show Tuesday morning that there will be negotiations on the spending legislation as lawmakers return.

“We’re coming to the typical kind of stalemate which has become all too familiar in divided government,” Ryan said. “It’s very frustrating.”

Now for the Zika tie-in. To no one’s surprise, Congress failed to move forward a $1.1 billion funding package to help the country address the outbreak of Zika for the third time Tuesday night, just as Florida reported seven new locally-transmitted cases of the virus, according to an ABC News report.

Led by Senate Democrats protesting language they say will limit funding to Planned Parenthood, lawmakers voted down the spending package by a 52-46 vote, falling short of the 60 votes needed to move forward on the legislation.

“For the health of our country and for the protection of all our children, let’s get this compromise legislation done,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) urged in a statement after the measure failed. “No one should doubt the gravity of the threat or the long-term health consequences of failing to get our work done.”

Firing back, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said, “They tried to disguise the fact that what they were trying to do was eliminate Planned Parenthood.”

Nicely, but so predictably said, gentlemen. But don’t either of you hear a clock ticking somewhere?

Why Congress went through the motions of voting on the same measure that failed twice before the summer recess, I haven’t a clue since the outcome was guaranteed. In the Janesville, Wisconsin radio interview, Ryan said he anticipates there will be resolution on Zika dollars by the end of September. He didn’t say he could guarantee that, however.

This political football game began way back on Feb. 22 when President Obama asked Congress for $1.9 billion to fight Zika. The GOP immediately picked up that request, said to the Dems, “Our ball,” and flipped back the $1.1 billion measure with the veto bait in it. The Dems immediately shot that down and now we’re right back to square one. Great lesson for our children in how our government doesn’t work for us when we really need it to.

Steve's Take: the #Zika crisis reveals how gov't doesn't work for us when we really need it to Click To Tweet

As Congress bickers, a new poll found strong public support for more taxpayer dollars to fight the mosquito-borne virus. Three-quarters of Americans say increased federal research funding is necessary to prevent Zika’s continued spread, according to the poll by the March of Dimes and NORC at the University of Chicago.

As I’ve said on several occasions, the $800 million difference in Obama’s request and the GOP’s counter is a mere $800 million–exactly 0.013% of our national defense budget. The fact that foreign companies have been partnering with the U.S. Army of all things, to initiate development of a Zika vaccine is mind boggling.

I seldom resort to this type of plea, but again I call upon you to contact your representatives and demand that they drop the partisanship and political games and do their job to protect us citizens, especially our yet-to-be born children, whose lives are most at risk.

We need action, and we need it now. The clock is ticking and there are just 19 days left before Congress says bye-bye again. The spread of the Zika epidemic is progressing on its own clock, not the one Congress keeps.