Editorials

Congress needs to get back to work on Zika

A Miami Beach sanitation worker washes down an alleyway Friday with high pressure hot water to kill mosquito larvae. Federal health officials warned pregnant women to avoid South Beach because of the Zika virus.
A Miami Beach sanitation worker washes down an alleyway Friday with high pressure hot water to kill mosquito larvae. Federal health officials warned pregnant women to avoid South Beach because of the Zika virus. El Nuevo Herald via AP

If you want a textbook case of Congress failing to do its job, look no further than its pathetic and dangerous response to the Zika virus.

We and many others urged the honorables to agree on a funding bill to fight the Zika outbreak before they left in July for a seven-week recess. They were warned that a public health emergency would worsen.

It’s happening.

On Friday, federal health officials advised pregnant women and their sexual partners to avoid a popular tourist area of Miami Beach and to consider postponing nonessential travel to all of Miami and Dade County because it’s possible that virus-carrying mosquitoes have spread.

Pregnant women face the greatest danger because the virus can cause miscarriages, stillbirths, and babies to be born with an abnormally small head and brain damage.

Five people – including visitors from New York, Texas and Taiwan – have contracted the virus in South Beach, Florida officials said. Another 31 have been infected in the trendy Wynwood neighborhood north of downtown Miami. On Aug. 1, it became the first place in the continental United States where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned against traveling.

While Miami is the first U.S. city with confirmed cases transmitted locally by mosquitoes, how many more will there be, especially without aggressive action?

In the vast majority of other Zika cases in the U.S., people were infected while traveling in hot zones in the Caribbean and Latin America or through sex with an infected partner.

There are now nearly 2,300 cases across the nation, including 170 in California as of Friday, the state Department of Public Health reported. Two dozen of the California infections are in pregnant women, and two babies have been born with defects. Los Angeles and San Diego have the most infections.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco on Friday called on Republican leaders in the House to reconvene immediately to pass a Zika funding bill.

They should. Otherwise, they’re not scheduled to return until after Labor Day. “What better thing do Republicans have to do than protect the American people from the threat of Zika?” Pelosi asked in a statement.

A very good question.

A $1.1 billion measure would give $476 million to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to increase mosquito control and other efforts and another $230 million to the National Institutes of Health to develop a vaccine. The bill got bogged down by partisan spats over unrelated provisions.

But this isn’t a partisan issue. It’s a public health crisis.

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