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Byrne Urges President Obama to Use Remaining Ebola Funds to Fight Zika Virus

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Wednesday, August 3, 2016, US Representative Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) sent a letter to President Obama calling on his administration to use unspent money that has been set aside to address the Zika virus.

According to information provided by Congressman Byrne’s office, “In April, the Obama Administration announced that it would use $589 million in unspent money from the Ebola disease outbreak on combatting the Zika virus. As of last Friday, the Office of Management and Budget confirmed that $385 million of that money remains unspent.

Rep. Byrne said, “The Zika virus is a real and serious threat to the United States, especially here on the Gulf Coast. It is incredibly troubling that the Obama Administration is sitting on unspent funds that could be used to fight the Zika virus right now, but they are instead spending all their time trying to score political points.”

Rep. Byrne continued, “Additional funding is necessary, and I continue to call on the Senate to pass our responsible $1.1 billion package to help with Zika prevention, research, and treatment. However, until the process moves forward, the Obama Administration should use the money they have available right now.”

Senate Democrats are filibustering the House passed Republican $1.1 billion plan; because they want Congress to pass the Democratic $1.9 billion plan.

Congressman Byrne wrote to President Obama, “As the representative of a district threatened by the Zika virus, I am writing to express my great concern at your Administration’s allocation of resources to combat Zika. Since February, you have urged Congress to appropriate $1.9 billion to combat Zika. Congressional Republicans joined your call for an immediate response to this crisis; however, at a time when this country is $19 trillion in debt, my colleagues and I have simply asked that any funding be targeted and offset from other spending. To that end, House Republicans requested the large amount of money left over from the Ebola threat be used to address the Zika virus.”

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Rep. Byrne wrote, “The Zika threat is upon us. Zika has reached Florida and may spread into Alabama soon. For the first time in history, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a travel warning inside the continental United States for pregnant women. Moreover, in Puerto Rico, positive tests of the virus have jumped from 14 percent in February to 64 percent in June, and 2 percent of the island’s blood supply has tested positive for the Zika virus.”

Rep. Byrne concluded, “The threat of Zika is too important to the people of Alabama and other southern states for the current situation to continue. I urge you to take immediate action to ensure the available funding resources are swiftly and properly allocated by federal agencies to combat the Zika threat.”

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) wrote in an op-ed in USA Today, “We shouldn’t be politicizing the Zika threat. We should be fighting it. From the start, the Republican-led Congress has made it a priority to enact smart measures and secure resources to protect the public.”

Speaker Ryan wrote, “Back in February, we urged the Obama administration to jumpstart this effort with existing resources. Eventually, officials came back to us and agreed to utilize $589 million, much of it already in the pipeline for Ebola response that could be easily re-directed. Yet to this day, hundreds of millions of dollars remain unspent. This is allocated money that the administration fully controls — money it seemingly refuses to spend.”

Ryan said that House Republicans have worked to make sure additional resources are in place if needed, approving $1.1 billion in additional funding which included critical steps, like spraying mosquitoes to stop the spread of the disease. Ryan claimed that the House plan was a compromise, agreeing to partially offset the funding when Democrats sought to have none of the funding be offset.

Speaker Ryan claimed that the White House turns a blind eye to all this, demanding more funding while sitting on unspent funds; calling for more aggressive mosquito control while Senate Democrats block that authority; and pointing, “Fingers at Republicans, knowing full well that Senate Democrats are being obstructionist.”

Ryan urged the White House and Senate Democrats to drop politics and put the public’s health first.

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The Miami Herald is reporting that the number of confirmed cases of confirmed locally transmitted Zika cases in Miami-Dade County is at 13, plus 2 in Broward County. Additionally Florida has 336 confirmed cases being attributed to foreign travel. Alabama has 18 confirmed cases of the Zika Virus but they are all being attributed to foreign travel.

More than one million people worldwide die from mosquito-borne diseases every year. Infected persons can transmit Zika to their partners sexually. It is also possible that the disease can be transmitted from blood transfusions and from mother to unborn child.

The Alabama Department of Public Health is recommending that pregnant women should not travel to Zika-affected areas; men who have traveled to Zika-affected areas and have pregnant partners should abstain from sex or consistently and correctly use condoms for the duration of the pregnancy for all forms of sexual activity; and men who have traveled to Zika-affected areas and have non-pregnant partners should consider abstaining from sexual activity or consistently and correctly use condoms.

On Monday, August 1, the US Centers for Disease Control recommended that women who have been in the Miami area recently refrain from becoming pregnant for at least eight weeks. The CDC is urging that women who are pregnant, might be pregnant, or could become pregnant avoid travel to the area of Miami where the virus is being transmitted.

According to the Alabama Department of Public Health only one in five people infected with Zika virus develop the disease and show symptoms. “The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache. The incubation period (the time from exposure to symptoms) for Zika virus disease is not known, but is likely to be a few days to a week. The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week. Zika virus usually remains in the blood of an infected person for a few days but it can be found longer in some people. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon and deaths are rare. Zika is in a family of viruses called flaviviruses that includes dengue, and both share similar clinical presentations.”

Zika was first identified last year in Brazil. There over 1,700 cases of microcephaly (a severe birth defect) have been attributed to the disease. The virus has been spreading rapidly since then and now includes much of South and Central America as well as Puerto Rico and now the Wynwood neighborhood in Miami, Florida. Authorities have begun aerial spraying of a ten square miles area of greater Miami including Wynwood.

Congressman Bradley Byrne represents Alabama’s First Congressional District.

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(Original reporting by Reuters and Fox News contributed to this report.)

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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