- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 24, 2016

President Obama’s top public health officials told Congress on Wednesday that there isn’t enough leftover Ebola funding to fight the Zika virus and said Republicans will need to find another $2 billion to combat the mosquito-borne illness.

Key figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health said they are obligated to keep fighting Ebola in West Africa and that there is no extra money in their budgets — meaning Congress will either have to find places to cut elsewhere or shortchange the anti-Zika effort.

Anthony Fauci, the NIH’s director of infectious diseases, said he has spent almost his entire Ebola budget and had to shift other money to get a jump-start on Zika — but now they need more money to proceed.

“They’re going to have to not do other things in order to do that,” he said.

Mr. Obama this week requested $1.9 billion in emergency funding to fight the Zika virus at home and abroad, citing its link to serious birth defects.

But powerful Republican lawmakers told him to use about $2.7 billion in leftover Ebola funds first, arguing that the money could be backfilled as needed.

“The supplemental you’ve requested will take time, will probably get mired in controversy and will likely attract many requests for additional emergency funding,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, Kentucky Republican.

He said the administration will come to regret picking this fight. “We gave you a quick and easy path. You’ve chosen a much more difficult one that will only slow the response to Zika,” he said.

Mr. Obama has asked for flexibility to tap Ebola funds but hasn’t said how much it will be able to sweat out of the existing accounts.

“The outbreak is out of the headlines, but there is still substantial effort,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy CDC director. “The CDC doesn’t have that large a balance for Ebola.”

Democrats said Congress will have to find the cash somewhere.

“We need to both finish the job of responding to the Ebola crisis and act to address the growing threat of the Zika virus. Families’ health and safety should not be a zero-sum game,” the Senate Health Committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, said at a Zika hearing Wednesday.

The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne disease that is fanning across Latin America and has been linked to an uptick in the number of babies born with abnormally small heads, a condition known as microcephaly. Although the link hasn’t been confirmed, U.S. officials have asked pregnant women to defer travel to hard-hit areas such as Brazil.

The CDC has reported 82 cases of Zika among travelers who returned to the U.S. from hard-hit countries, although the virus is not being transmitted by mosquitoes within the 50 states.

This week, however, the CDC said scientists are investigating 14 suspected cases of transmission between sexual partners.

Dr. Fauci said Zika infection usually stays in the blood for seven to 10 days, though it can remain in other parts of the body. One study found that it subsisted in semen in a male subject for 62 days.

Some members said the emerging Zika threat and the aftermath of Ebola outbreak show that Congress for years has shortchanged basic research.

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