Senators want answers on Zika threat

Senators are pushing the Obama administration for details on what it's doing to prepare for a potential outbreak of the Zika virus. 

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandSenators near deal on sexual harassment policy change Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — Trump hits federally funded clinics with new abortion restrictions Dem senators ask drug companies to list prices in ads MORE (D-N.Y.) on Thursday sent a letter to Anthony Fauci, the director for the national institute of allergy and infectious diseases (NIAID), asking that he "prioritize research" for a potential vaccine to the virus. 
 
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"The imminent threat of Zika to the United States is deeply troubling, as are reports that the development of a vaccine could take as long as ten years," Gillibrand wrote, citing the spread of the virus to 24 countries. 
 
She added that she hopes NIAID will coordinate with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC), saying she will push her colleagues on the Appropriations Committee to give NIAID emergency funding to back their efforts on the Zika virus. 
 
Separately, Sens. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonSenate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA Continued efforts to pass 'right to try' legislation should fail GOP, Dem lawmakers come together for McCain documentary MORE (R-Wis.) and Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperHillicon Valley: Facebook, Google struggle to block terrorist content | Cambridge Analytica declares bankruptcy in US | Company exposed phone location data | Apple starts paying back taxes to Ireland Overnight Energy: Pruitt taps man behind 'lock her up' chant for EPA office | Watchdog to review EPA email policies | Three Republicans join climate caucus Watchdog to probe EPA email preservation MORE (D-Del.), who oversee the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, sent letters to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and CDC Director Thomas Frieden. 
 
The senators are asking Johnson for any details on DHS efforts to coordinate with other agencies in "tracking the potential spread" of the Zika virus in the United States. 
 
They also want to know any other plans from DHS related to preparing for a potential outbreak, what DHS resources are available to state and local governments, and how the department will decide whether passengers entering the United States will be screened for Zika. 
 
The senators noted in their letter to Frieden that they are hoping to "better understand" what the CDC is doing to "address the spread of the virus and to prepare our country ... for any potential outbreak." 
 
They added that while those within the United States appear to have contracted the virus while they were traveling abroad, they believe that "more can and should be done to enhance preparedness and ascertain the nature of the threat Zika poses to our country." 
 
They want to know how the CDC will work with state and local governments to develop a national "surveillance strategy" for Zika, what resources are currently available to state and local governments and what assistance the CDC is currently providing to impacted countries. 
 
The administration has suggested that a wide outbreak of the Zika virus in the United States is unlikely. 
 
Fauci told reporters that a large outbreak is “not something that we expect to see." Meanwhile, Anne Schuchat, the principal deputy director of the CDC, added that any outbreak within the contiential United States "will likely be limited."
 
The CDC has issued a warning to pregnant women against traveling to Central and South America, which have taken the brunt of the virus so far. The virus, which is transmitted by mosquito bites, has been linked to birth defects.