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Zika Virus Is 'Scarier Than Initially Thought,' Billions Needed To Fight It Say U.S. Health Officials

( [email protected] ) Apr 11, 2016 11:57 PM EDT
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official said Monday the Zika virus is tied to more birth defects than the genetic abnormalities-related microcephaly, and the mosquitoes that can carry it are present in 30 U.S. states. Doctors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health appeared before White House reporters Monday to press their case for Congress to approve $1.9 billion in emergency funding to fight the virus.
Dr. Anthony Fauci (right), director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease, and Dr. Anne Schuchat, Center for Disease Control's principal deputy director appeared before White House reporters April 11, 206, to press their case for Congress to approve $1.9 billion in emergency funding to fight the virus. Reuters / Kevin Lamarque

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official said Monday the Zika virus is tied to more birth defects than the genetic abnormalities related microcephaly, and the mosquitoes that can carry it are present in 30 U.S. states. Doctors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health appeared before White House reporters Monday to press their case for Congress to approve $1.9 billion in emergency funding to fight the virus.

"Most of what we've learned is not reassuring," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, CDC's principal deputy director, as reported by NBC News. "Everything we know about this virus seems to be scarier than we initially thought."

Schuchat said anywhere between 25 percent to 80 percent of the population could become infected as the virus moves across new countries. The World Health Organization predicts Zika will hit every country in the Americas except for Chile and Canada, which don't have the mosquitoes that spread it.

Scientists also released two more studies: one showing the virus seems to hone in on developing brain cells and kill them, and one showing it may cause rare nerve damage that resembles multiple sclerosis.

"Everything we see is bad," said Dr. Tony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). "Every week. Every month it tends to surprise us. There was no reason to think that it would be this bad."

Zika can cause microcephaly, a devastating birth defect in which the brain doesn't develop properly, and other types of brain damage are being discovered, too. Studies show babies can be affected at any stage of pregnancy. A Zika infection just weeks before birth can even cause a miscarriage.

Schuchat said no one knows how many women who are pregnant and who get infected will go on to have babies with a birth defect. Medical experts predict there will be birth defects that don't show up for years, and studies will be needed to find out what they are and how common they are.

President Barack Obama asked Congress for $1.9 billion to help handle, understand and curb Zika, but NBC News reports Congress has said it doesn't want to spend any new money on Zika until the federal government uses up excess funds from elsewhere. 

NIH will have to take money away from programs to fight malaria, tuberculosis and influenza soon, Fauci said.

Zika is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is common in the warmest states and territories but which can be found as far north as San Francisco, Kansas City and New York. Right now, there's no way to forecast how bad they'll be this summer, Schuchat said.

"One of the problems in the past decade or so is we really let our mosquito control efforts wither away," she said.

Previous coverage of Zika on The Gospel Herald included:

Jan. 25, 2016:  WHO: Zika Virus to Spread Quickly Across US; Babies Birth Defect, Symptoms and Prevention

Feb. 16, 2016:  Zika Virus Update: Epidemic Should Not Change Ban On Contraception and Abortion, Catholic Leaders Say

Tags : Zika, virus, mosquito virus, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, microcephaly, Barack Obama, White House Zika, National Institutes of Health, Anne Schuchat, Tony Fauci, National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, NIAID, Aedes aegypti mosquito, World Health Organization, WHO