Pols Urge Congress to OK Anti-Zika Funding

West Nile Virus 1

By Ana Borruto

With 41 cases of Zika reported on Long Island and mosquito season now in full swing, lawmakers are urging the U.S. Senate to pass funding to combat the virus before the Congressional summer break.

The bill would provide $1.9 billion in emergency funding bill to expand local mosquito control efforts, develop a Zika vaccine and improve treatment of patients that contract the virus. But if the Senate doesn’t approve the funding before they go on break Friday, they won’t take the issue up again until Sept. 5—seven weeks from now.

“We can beat Zika, but we have to do it now,” U.S Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) told reporters Monday during a news conference at Nassau University Medical Center. “We are here today to ask the federal government to act, and act quickly.”

Nassau County has 18 confirmed Zika virus cases, Suffolk County has 23 cases and New York City has 276 case, according to a July 6 report from New York State Department of Health. Altogether, New York State has 352 confirmed Zika virus case—the highest Zika virus rate of any state in the nation.

The main concern is for the pregnant women to contract the virus due to the risk of birth defects, such as microcephaly. Although officials have not confirmed any mosquitoes to be infected with the virus on Long Island, it’s possible that the 41 on LI who’ve been diagnosed with Zika got it by traveling abroad. It is also sexually transmitted, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

“We know how to eradicate it, but it’s expensive,” Schumer said, noting that some of the money will aid Puerto Rico with eradicating their Zika cases in order to reduce its presence in New York. “We need this signed, sealed and delivered by next week.”

In May, U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone urged Congress to pass the emergency funding package to provide New York State with the proper resources to fight the virus. But the U.S. House of Representatives only passed $622 million out of $1 billion President Barack Obama requested for the emergency funding. The Senate passed $1.1 billion, $800 million below the request.

While the debate continues in Congress, Nassau and Suffolk counties are ramping up their mosquito control efforts for the summer. In addition to spraying and testing mosquitoes for West Nile virus, the counties are also conducting Zika surveillance as well as issuing the usual reminders for the public to remove standing water from outside their home.

“Just a bottle cap full of water can be a breeding zone for the Zika mosquito,” said Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano.

Zika is believed to be transmitted via the Asian Tiger Mosquito, the same one the transmits the West Nile virus. Mosquito season ends Nov. 30.

“We don’t have an emergency yet. We want to prevent one,” said Nassau County Health Commissioner Dr. Lawrence Eisenstein.