By MARSHA MERCER
Congressional Republicans are balking at President Barack Obama’s request for $1.9 billion in emergency funds to prevent and treat the Zika virus, which is transmitted by mosquitoes. Why the reluctance?
“They haven’t been bitten yet,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.
It’s politics as usual in Washington. Republicans said the administration should use already allocated funds, so Obama shifted $510 million from the fight against Ebola in West Africa and $79 million from diseases like malaria and tuberculosis to Zika.
But that’s not enough, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, who’s holding out for the full $1.9 billion.
“I’m not an alarmist,” Fauci told reporters Monday, “but the more we learn about the neurological aspects (of Zika), the more we look around and say, `This is very serious.’”
The nation’s top docs say the Zika threat is “scarier” than initially thought. Zika causes severe birth defects in newborns and is linked in adults to Guillain-Barre syndrome, an immune system disorder, said the Centers for Disease Control.
So far, no mosquitoes have transmitted the virus in the United States, although officials say that could change this summer.
The 346 Zika cases reported in 40 states are all travel-related. Florida has the most with 85 cases. In Virginia, nine cases have been reported. Tennessee has had two cases, and Alabama, one.
In Puerto Rico, where mosquitoes are spreading the virus, hundreds of thousands of cases are expected this year. The government is distributing Zika prevention kits there and in other hard-hit areas.
There’s hope for a vaccine, with trials possibly starting in September. Obama is expected to sign into law a measure providing incentives to pharmaceutical companies to develop Zika treatments.
Once again, though, neither the White House nor Congress has thought to enlist ordinary Americans in fighting the threat. After 9/11 when the government mobilized for the war on terror, leaders asked nothing of most people. About 1 percent of Americans volunteered for war; the rest were told to go shopping.
With Zika, the government is asking women who are pregnant or plan to be not to travel to affected areas.
But if we ever we needed a common enemy to draw us together, it’s now. Americans may be poles apart politically, but it’s safe to say nobody likes mosquitoes. Even before Zika, mosquitoes brought us West Nile Virus, and still do. To them, we’re just a meal.
Officials say Aedes aegypti, a.k.a. yellow fever mosquito, is most likely to transmit Zika. It has been found in 30 states, including throughout the Southeast. Until its tie with Zika, this mosquito was known for causing more casualties in the Spanish-American War than combat.
So, what’s a patriot to do in the undeclared war on mosquitoes? I stopped by the Arlington County (Va.) Cooperative Extension Service office and learned more about mosquitoes than I knew to ask.
For example, only the female mosquito bites. She needs a blood meal to lay eggs. The Aedes aegypti deposits hundreds of them on wet container walls or near standing water. Even if the surface is dry, the eggs can hang on for months. When water reappears, they hatch and grow to full-grown in a week.
Chemical insecticides often kill the beneficial insects along with the pests and can be bad for pets and pond fish. So, before you hire an exterminator, have a “dump the bucket” party in your neighborhood. Empty cans, flower pots and birdbaths weekly.
Get rid of old tires. Put goldfish in your pond to eat mosquito larvae or use larvicide donuts. Check gutters and downspouts to be sure they are free flowing and don’t hold water. Repair window screens.
When possible, wear long sleeves and long pants. Use products containing DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus on exposed skin – but not under clothes. Follow the label instructions.
And listen to Mikulski: “The mosquitoes are coming. You can’t build a wall to keep them out, and the mosquitoes can’t pay for it.”
But we can join our neighbors and dump the bucket. Early and often.
©2016 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.