Healthcare

CDC: Zika ‘scarier than we initially thought’

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Top U.S. health officials warned Monday that the Zika virus is “scarier” than originally believed as they pressured Congress to approve more funding. 

“Everything we look at with this virus seems to be a bit scarier than we initially thought,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who was invited to the daily White House press briefing to make the case for new funding. 

{mosads}Schuchat said the virus is now believed to be linked to more complications in pregnancy, such as premature births, in addition to the birth defect known as microcephaly that causes developmental problems. The mosquitos that spread the virus are now believed to be in about 30 states, instead of 12, she added. 

The White House is pushing Republicans in Congress to approve $1.9 billion in emergency funding for things like mosquito control and vaccine research. 

“I can’t imagine, as we learn more and more things that are troublesome, that all of a sudden we’re not going to get the money. We really do have to get it,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease official at the National Institutes of Health, said at the briefing. 

Zika has mild symptoms in most people but can be dangerous for pregnant women because of the possibility of birth defects in babies. Officials say they are not expecting a widespread outbreak in the United States but cannot be sure, given uncertainty about the virus’s behavior. 

Hundreds of thousands of Zika cases are expected in Puerto Rico, officials said. 

Republicans have so far rejected the push for new funds. 

Doug Andres, a spokesman for Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), said Monday in response to the briefing that the White House is trying to “politicize” Zika. He noted that the White House last week shifted about $500 million of Ebola funds over to Zika, as Republicans requested. Any additional funding, he said, should come through the regular appropriations process, which means waiting until the fall. 

“If additional Zika resources are needed those funds could and should be addressed through the regular appropriations process,” Andres said. 

The White House says the shifted Ebola funds are not enough and only a temporary fix. 

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Friday broke with other Republicans and backed the White House’s funding request. 

Fauci said Monday that without new funds, he would have to take money away from important research on diseases like malaria and tuberculosis to redirect to Zika, causing other research to “suffer.”

A range of public health experts are also calling for new funds.   

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