By Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
Like many Kentuckians, I’m concerned about the Zika virus and the growing number of reports of people infected. In a recent meeting with President Obama at the White House, I raised the spread of this virus and what it could mean for Kentucky and the country as we head into warmer weather this spring and summer.
Millions of people in Latin America and the Caribbean have been diagnosed with the Zika virus, which is transmitted primarily by mosquitoes. There are several isolated cases of Americans suffering from the virus, most of them due to recent travel to affected areas. Cases have been confirmed in neighboring Indiana and Ohio.
Being infected with Zika virus can lead to a fever, a rash, joint pain and other mild symptoms. There is also evidence that pregnant women who have Zika can give birth to children suffering from a birth defect, causing their babies to have unusually small heads and brains.
Brazil, the epicenter of the Zika outbreak in the Americas, has seen a surge in babies born with this condition, called microcephaly.
Here in the U.S., concern about the Zika virus is growing in our country, and Americans deserve to have a clear understanding of what preparations their government is making to protect them.
That’s why, as Senate Majority Leader, I recently requested that Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Sylvia Burwell come to the Senate to give Senators of both parties a briefing on the facts about Zika and how the federal government is readying a response.
At the briefing we heard not only from Secretary Burwell, but representatives from the National Institutes for Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well. I pressed them to get a better understanding of the Administration’s plans to fight Zika, and where it fits within the HHS department’s priorities. The Administration is asking Congress for $1.8 billion in emergency funding, primarily to reduce transmission and create protective measures for pregnant women and their babies.
Over the coming weeks, various Congressional committees will hold hearings to evaluate this funding request and learn more about how the Administration would plan to spend these federal dollars. Congress must ensure appropriate steps are being taken to address the threat of Zika, while protecting taxpayer funds.
Some of the important work to fight the spread of the Zika virus is happening right here in Kentucky. The world’s leading mosquito experts will gather this March in Brazil to share ways to control and manage the type of mosquito known to carry the virus, and a University of Kentucky researcher, Dr. Grayson Brown, is one of the leaders in this international effort.
Meanwhile, the University of Louisville Center for Predictive Medicine is hosting a discussion to bring together infectious disease researchers to address the Zika virus.
Our state and national public health agencies are working hard to learn more about this virus and prevent its widespread transmission in the United States. And our smartest scientists, doctors and researchers are ardently searching for ways to contain it, treat it, and develop a vaccine for it.
While the CDC recommends that women who are pregnant consider postponing travel to the impacted areas, it’s important to remember that the mosquito that normally carries the virus is not known to be circulating in our state’s mosquito population.
So Kentuckians should be sure to stay safe and stay informed. I will continue to make the health and safety of Kentuckians and all Americans a high priority. And I’ll work my hardest to protect people, especially children, from communicable disease—whether it is Zika or any other threat.
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