Congressional Funding Is Imperative For Zika Fight, Surgeon General Says

Jul 22, 2016

Florida officials are still investigating what could become the first non-travel-related cases of Zika in the United States.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy spoke with Health News Florida Editor Julio Ochoa about how the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention is helping with the response.

Julio Ochoa: It was only a matter of time before we got our first non-travel-related case of Zika in Florida. Now it's possible we have two. What does this mean for public health officials in the state.

Vivek Murthy: What this underscores is the importance of us ensuring that people know what steps they can take to protect themselves from the Zika virus. This is a virus that's primarily transmitted through mosquitoes but we have learned in the last year that it can also be transmitted through sex. And that's why we're advising people if you're pregnant to not travel to an area that has local transmission Zika.

JO: Do you think we're prepared to handle was the outbreak in Florida?

VM: Well there are certainly a number of steps that have already been taken by Florida and with the support of the CDC and the federal government to prepare for this moment. But I'll tell you what my concern is. Right now the funding that we have been pulling together has been money that we've had to take from other public health accounts because we still as of now do not have the funding that has been provided specifically for the response by Congress. My hope is that that will change because as we have learned not just from Zika but from other public health emergencies it's very important to invest early and upfront so that we can prevent rather than have to deal with the aftermath of infection later.

JO: On that note, how crucial is congressional funding to the Zika fight?

VM: Well the congressional funding is very important. One example I share with you is that we have for example invested heavily in vaccine development and hope to begin phase one trials on a vaccine soon. But if we don't receive the Congressional funding we will not be able to continue those tests and studies for the vaccine which will ultimately impair our ability to develop a fully functioning and safe vaccine for the public.

JO: Florida now has 334 Zika cases including 46 pregnant women. What would you say to a pregnant woman or someone who's considering becoming pregnant?

VM: Well what I would say is that if you're a Floridian and you're pregnant right now you should take every step possible to reduce the likelihood of getting mosquito bites because we know that this virus is primarily transmitted through mosquitoes and this includes wearing repellents and staying in air conditioned spaces. But given that we also know that Zika can be transmitted through sex if you're pregnant and you have a partner who travels to an area where there's transmission of Zika you should avoid having unprotected sex with your partner for the duration of their pregnancy. If you are thinking about getting pregnant and you have any concerns about the timing of your pregnancy I would encourage you to talk to your doctor to weigh the risks and benefits.

JO: The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease was quoted by The Associated Press is saying the way you prevent a locally transmitted case from becoming sustained in disseminated is a good mosquito control he added the CDC needs the money yesterday. Do you agree with that assessment?

VM: I do. Mosquito control is an important part of our Zika response. And right now the CDC has issued funds to Florida as well as so many other states in our country to assist with mosquito control. But we know that congressional funding is going to be important to ensure that this effort is supported at the level that it needs to be and sustained for the time that's required. So that's why funding the Zika response is so essential. We don't want to be fighting the public health threat that Zika represents with one hand tied behind our back.

JO:  Thank you Surgeon General Murthy for joining us today.

VM: No problem Great to be with you.