Senator Bill Nelson is filing legislation that would provide the $1.9 billion that President Obama says is needed to fight the spread of the Zika virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 358 Zika cases in the United States as of Tuesday. Agency Director Thomas Frieden recently told Fox News that their largest concern is how Zika may affect pregnant women.
“Brazil has reported a rare fetal malformation called microcephaly, or infants born with very small heads,” Frieden said. “And that appears to be related to Zika. But there’s a lot that we don’t yet know about it. That’s why we’ve got disease detectives on the ground in Brazil and Puerto Rico.”
Speaking on the Senate floor, Florida Senator Bill Nelson said 91 of those cases are across 15 counties in Florida, including one case in Santa Rosa County. Five of the Florida patients are pregnant women.
“Fortunately, none of them originated in the state,” Nelson said. “It’s all because of a mosquito bite or some other means of transmission, such as sexual contact, that has been done outside of Florida.”
Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have seen 461 Zika cases between them, and almost all of those people contracted the disease locally. Nelson adds that it’s not even summer yet, when mosquito swarms are at their thickest: especially in the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
CDC Chief Thomas Frieden says if you are pregnant, you may want to avoid those areas.
“Don’t go to a place where Zika is spreading,” said Frieden. “If you’re in a place where Zika is spreading use mosquito repellant, use long sleeves, use clothes that repel. Stay inside if possible, under air conditioning.”
Senator Nelson's proposal comes amid rumors that Senate appropriators have reached a deal to provide $1.1 billion to fight Zika, rather than the $1.9 billion requested by the president. The difference involves cutting $250 million earmarked for Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program, and $589 million that would replenish the federal Ebola fund.
Saying it’s truly an emergency, Nelson is calling on his colleagues to approve the president’s request now, in the immediate future, and not later.
“The cost of this inaction would be far greater, and the consequences way too devastating,” said Nelson. “And we don’t want to have to say in the future, ‘I told you so.’”
Senator Bill Nelson’s legislation is likely to be considered as a stand-alone measure, but also possibly as an amendment to an appropriation bill.