- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 11, 2016

Evidence that the Zika virus causes serious birth defects is growing stronger by the day, the head of the Centers for Disease Control said Thursday as he lobbied Congress to approve President Obama’s $1.8 billion request to the fight the rapidly spreading disease at home and abroad.

Testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee, CDC Director Tom Frieden cited studies in which scientists discovered Zika’s genome in the brains of an aborted fetus in Brazil and babies who died within 24 hours of being born.

Each of them had abnormally small heads, or microcephaly — a condition that’s been linked to Zika, elevating the stakes around a virus that appears to cause at most only mild symptoms in adults, such as minior fevers, rashes or red-eye.

“It’s looking increasingly certain, though not yet proven, that it is causal,” Dr. Frieden told the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The CDC and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the infectious diseases director at the National Institutes of Health, pleaded with lawmakers to authorize Mr. Obama’s request for emergency funds, saying the Zika threat requires a multi-pronged approach that destroys mosquito populations while seeking a vaccine and more reliable tests for the virus.

Dr. Frieden said there may already be a shortage of kits for a current test which, while imprecise, can detect Zika in people who no longer show symptoms.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, said he is ready to address Zika in bipartisan fashion, but that Congress would need to “scrub” Mr. Obama’s emergency request once it gets it.

Others said the agency already has funds in the near term, so there is no reason to send a massive amount of taxpayer dollars out the door this week.

“We don’t want to get the cart before the horse,” Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican, said in a brief interview. “To the credit of the CDC they’re moving rapidly, and I appreciate that. Number two, we should carefully evaluate their proposal and make sure the money is being spent for the right thing, and that we’re spending money effectively.”

Sen. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican and chairman of the Appropriations Committee’s panel on health, said there appeared to be money left over from the anti-Ebola campaign to fight Zika — an idea that Dr. Frieden rejected.

“Those dollars are fully committed,” he said.

Down the hall, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said workers who have been swabbing the dead in Sierra Leone uncovered a new Ebola case in recent weeks, even though the country had been declared Ebola-free.

“We need to make sure we finish the job on Ebola,” she told the Senate Finance Committee.

Though Zika isn’t actively transmitting in the U.S., travelers have brought the virus back with them and there has been a documented case of sexual transmission in Texas. And as temperatures rise in the summer, the U.S. will be at greater risk of transmission from mosquitoes — particularly in the southern states.

The U.S. is advising pregnant women to defer visits to the affected countries, which are in the Caribbean and Latin America, or to at least take precautions against mosquito bites if they must travel. Dr. Frieden said the issue is particularly urgent in Puerto Rico, where transmission is active.

Senate Democrats urged the GOP-led Congress to move quickly to approve money.

“I am going to plead with them to not just talk the talk, but walk the walk,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, New York Democrat.

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