OPINION COLUMNS

Scary news on Zika released this week

By Brian Knox | Published Saturday, April 16, 2016
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It’s never a good sign when you hear somebody with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) say something is “scarier than we initially thought.”

But that’s exactly what happened this week in regards to news about the Zika virus.

Brian Knox

Brian Knox

And that was before Wednesday’s big announcement from the CDC that after carefully reviewing all the evidence, it has concluded that Zika is a cause of microcephaly and other severe fetal brain defects.

Prior to Wednesday’s announcement, scientists could only say there appeared to be a link, but they had stopped short of describing a cause-and-effect relationship between the two.

Now that the evidence points to that link, we’ve reached what the CDC calls “a turning point” in the Zika outbreak. It is the first time a mosquito-borne virus has been linked to congenital brain defects.

I wrote a story last week about a confirmed case of Zika virus in Wise County. In that case, it was apparently contracted by someone who traveled to an endemic area outside the country and was diagnosed when they returned to the United States.

While no mosquito-borne Zika virus cases have yet been reported in the United States, it appears it is only a matter of time before mosquitoes all across the southern U.S. could become carriers of the virus.

And as anyone who has lived in the south can tell you, summertime is definitely mosquito season.

Because scientists are still trying to determine all of the threats posed by Zika and the different forms of transmission – it was also determined that Zika can be transmitted by sexual contact – more research is needed to fully assess this growing threat.

That will take money.

In February, President Obama requested that Congress approve spending $1.9 billion for Zika research. But like pretty much any request from the Democratic president to the Republican-controlled Congress, that wish has not been granted.

So the White House instead has transferred more than a half-million in funds previously allocated to other serious diseases, such as Ebola.

If Congress continues to balk at spending more money on Zika research, and the President keeps up the pressure, this will no doubt become another election-year issue.

Whether the full $1.9 billion is a reasonable request or not, hopefully Congress will not be pulled into playing politics on this one, but instead provide the funding needed for the necessary research.

If not, we might be faced with even more scary moments in the future.

Brian Knox is the Messenger’s special projects manager.

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