CDC and states lack resources to combat Zika
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health agencies lacked the information and resources to effectively track and monitor the Zika outbreak when cases first sprang up throughout the U.S. last year, according to a new federal analysis.
Agencies still lack the equipment to test for Zika and there's little coordination in controlling the mosquito population, the Government Accountability Office's chief scientist said during testimony before a House committee Tuesday.
More than 5,100 Zika cases have been reported as of May 10, according to the CDC. That number may grow as money and resources to properly respond to the virus have dwindled.
The GAO's Timothy Persons said it's been hard to track the current Zika outbreak because there isn't a reliable diagnostic test despite the fact that the Food and Drug Administration has approved 16. Developers currently can't compare information on efficacy rates.
Persons' report calls for the FDA to help aid sharing of that information. It also recommended collecting mosquito distribution maps and more quickly identifying symptoms and ways a virus spreads so that when that virus lands on U.S. soil, stakeholders are better prepared.
A number of state public health laboratories reported not having the equipment needed to run a Zika test when the outbreak began.
Another challenge cited in the report is the lack of coordination nationally when it comes to mosquito abatement, which is overseen by state and local authorities. The report found that despite more than 900 U.S. entities performing mosquito control, there are swaths of the country that aren't covered.
A 2012 report by the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists found that the number of staffers across the country working at least half-time to track mosquitoes for West Nile fell by 41% between 2004 and 2012. Many states during that same period decreased their mosquito trapping and testing activities.
Because spraying for the Aedes aegypti, the type of mosquito that carries Zika, is more labor-intensive than traditional abatement efforts, the report suggests boosting efforts.
Traditional control programs involve spraying insecticides in wetlands and sewers. The Aedes aegypti requires less space to breed and is often found near homes, requiring a door-to-door outreach.
But those types of efforts are costly and any new battles face the reality of fewer federal and state dollars. After a long and very public debate, Congress last September gave public health agencies $1.1 billion in a one-time boost to fight the virus' spread. Given that Republicans in Congress, who now control both chambers, fought against the emergency funds, it's unlikely a similar funding bill would pass today. President Donald Trump's budget proposal released Tuesday included large cuts to public health programs.
There currently is no cure or vaccine for the Zika virus, which can cause birth defects in children born to mothers who are infected with the virus during pregnancy.
Speaking at the hearing on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, said progress on developing a Zika vaccine was moving at a record pace. He did warn, however, that it could be several years before a viable candidate is ready for use. In March, Fauci announced one of the institute's own vaccines had successfully completed Phase 1 clinical trials in animals and humans and had moved on to the next stage of testing.
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