CDC Director Warns Zika to Be Sobering, Endemic US Problem; Congress Finally Showing Signs of Action.

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A likely surge this fall in the number of US infants born with grave defects will serve as a sobering admonition to members of Congress who’ve stalemated over funds to combat the Zika virus, the man in charge of the response said Friday.

“The decisions that are made in the coming weeks are going to have implications for decades to come, for individuals, and for families, and for communities,” Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told reporter.

He added that the virus known to cause severe birth defects could become endemic. According to the Washington Times, Dr. Frieden said funding for critical Zika research and mosquito control is “essentially all spent.” If Congress doesn’t pony up more before September ends, the push for better diagnostic tests for Zika and methods to wipe out disease-carrying insects will slow down, he said.

#ZikaVirus likely to increase US infants born with grave defects due to lack of #federal funding Click To Tweet

Research into how the virus affects pregnant women and the unborn will fall off course, the director said, and the CDC won’t be able to pay agency workers who’ve been borrowed from other projects, leaving the nation vulnerable to Zika over the long term.

The CDC estimates that 100 to 300 babies will be born with abnormally small heads, or microcephaly, in Puerto Rico after this mosquito season. Seventeen infants have been born with Zika-related problems on the US mainland, though he expects to see “a bunch of kids born with microcephaly” in the coming months.

Microcephaly is the most recognizable defect associated with Zika, though it has been linked to an array of other problems, including calcium deposits in the brain and stillbirths. “I hope Congress will do the right thing and provide additional resources to protect pregnant women,” said Dr. Frieden, whose agency received $222 million for the domestic response from funds previously allocated to the Ebola fight in West Africa and other research priorities.

Capitol Hill is struggling to break an impasse over how much money it should spend on the fight, and how the money should be used. Senators reached a compromise earlier this year that called for $1.1 billion in Zika money–$800 million less than President Obama requested in February–and added it all to the deficit.

The House approved $622 million, and called for it to be paid for by shifting money, so it didn’t add to the deficit. Senate Democrats filibustered a $1.1 billion plan that took $750 million from Ebola, Obamacare and other accounts and left Planned Parenthood out of its contraception plans.

On Friday, the House emerged from closed-door meetings split over whether to accept Democrats’ demand for a “clean” Zika funding as part of a short-term spending bill to keep the government running past Sept. 30. Rep. David Jolly, Florida Republican, was adamant that his party would accept the demands of the Senate Democrats, which include dropping restrictions on Zika funds going to Planned Parenthood.

“We’re going to have to swallow hard and vote for it,” he said. “At the end of the day you’ve got to negotiate and take some things out.” Speaker Ryan said.

Hhe believed more members backed giving the Democrats the “clean” Zika funding to avoid any more delays in fighting the disease. “Let’s put Zika ahead of politics,” said the Wisconsin Republican.

Frieden added, “I think we’ll look at this delay in time and say, ‘How could they have waited so long?’ This was so urgent. It was the very definition of an emergency. Not only is this unanticipated, it’s unprecedented. It’s potentially catastrophic, and it’s certainly that for the kind of brain damage we’re seeing.”

Frieden noted that it is extremely unusual to have a new cause for a severe birth defect and that the healthcare system will be grappling with the effects of Zika for years to come.

“We don’t know what congenital Zika syndrome will look like,” Frieden said. “We will likely be dealing with this for decades to come.”

The long-term cost of caring for a child with severe birth defects can be $10 million or more, Frieden said.

Steve’s Take: A glimmer of possible agreement surfaced on Capitol Hill Friday as CDC Director Doctor Tom Friedman–in no uncertain terms–warned our “do-nothing” Congress of the grave, now certain, implications of their failure to fund the Zika fight.

Apparently content, thus far, to whistle dixie while the evidence of an impending US epidemic mounts, signs are emerging that the big, protracted battle over Zika funding might be close to an end.

Several Republicans said it appeared increasingly likely that a clean bill–without restrictions on Plan Parenthood–would eventually be approved by both chambers of Congress.

“That’s where we’re headed,” said one senior Republican in leadership. But Ryan’s office struck a more cautious tone saying, “No decisions have been made by House Republicans, and the discussions will continue.”

Although a bipartisan consensus to fund the government through mid-December seems to be emerging, some House tea party conservatives are opposed and want a longer duration for the measure to avert a lame-duck session of Congress. And Senate Republicans, in particular, are eager to return home given they are defending 24 seats this election cycle and want to be as visible as possible in their districts.

On Friday, Ryan set forth various options that will keep the government open, while also voicing a preference to move smaller funding bills that avoid passing a major, omnibus bill by year’s end. Importantly, however, he did not specify his personal preference for resolving the Zika deadlock. That’s worrisome in that as difficult as it is to contemplate, the Zika funding issue may once again fall to partisan bickering and finger pointing.

I reported recently that a new poll found strong public support, three-quarters of Americans, for more taxpayer dollars to fight the mosquito-borne virus. And as I’ve said on numerous 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. Well, isn’t the Zika fight akin to warfare to defend the lives of our citizenry? Especially our yet-to-be-born children?

Steve's Take: Fighting the #ZikaVirus must be the top priority of #donothing #Congress Click To Tweet

CDC director Frieden has said that the two localized mosquito-born outbreaks in Miami are “quite difficult to control,” and added that the type of mosquitoes that spread Zika “are the cockroach of mosquitoes.” While microcephaly is the most immediate result of the epidemic, Frieden noted that infants are having problems swallowing and with their vision and hearing.

We need action, and we need it now. The clock is ticking and there are just a handful of days left before Congress departs Capitol Hill again. The spread of the Zika epidemic is progressing on its own clock, not the one Congress keeps. This would seem obvious. But nothing is guaranteed in our two-party structure where partisanship–these days, sadly–rules the day.