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Zika Talks Scheduled For NWFL As Disease Spreads

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  The Zika virus is here, it’s here to stay and there must be ways developed to minimize its damage to humans. That’s the theme of two presentations in the Florida Panhandle this week.

Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio chaired a hearing on Zika last week in Washington, D.C. Sixty-five countries and territories have reported evidence travel-related Zika cases. Four countries are said to have possible endemic transmission.

“According to the statistics from the World Health Organization, the United States is one of 11 countries with evidence of person-to-person transmission of the Zika virus,” said Rubio. “That means our neighbors, our friends, our families are already at risk.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports more than 1,100 travelers have turned up infected in the continental United States, including more than 400 pregnant women.

“I strongly believe that inaction on Zika is simply inexcusable,” said Rubio. “Something needs to happen quickly. It’s taken far too long already.”

President Obama has asked for $1.9 billion in emergency funding for Zika. Democrats in Congress backed it but Republicans, wanting more accountability, balked. A bipartisan compromise worked out in the spring went nowhere.

“My hope was that we would already have a bill that I could sign now,” Obama said in June. “Because part of what we’re trying to do now is get the process going for vaccines. You don’t get a vaccine overnight, so we gotta get moving.”

Congress left Friday for a long summer break, taking no action on the Zika funding bill.

“It is now definitive that Zika causes both microcephaly and other severe birth defects,” said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden, who testified before the committee.

Among those testifying before Rubio’s committee was CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden. He told the lawmakers that they’ve issued travel guidelines and educational materials to women of child-bearing age and their partners, since the virus can be spread through sexual contact.

“With additional resources we would be able to better understand the mechanisms of that harm, and the full range of harm,” said Frieden. “We don’t know what happens to infants born with normal-sized heads to mothers who were infected with the Zika virus.”

Frieden says more money is also needed to test people for Zika, especially pregnant women; to study how the virus affects babies; to help eradicate mosquitoes and to develop new pesticides; and to develop a vaccine and to care for affected babies.

On Wednesday, the Florida Department of Health and local elected officials will conduct a pair of Zika awareness presentations. The first is set for 10:00 a.m. at the Okaloosa County Emergency Operation Center in Niceville; and then 3:00 p.m. at Escambia County Emergency Ops in Pensacola.