By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Friday, August 5, 2016, as the threat from the Zika virus continues to grow, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley announced that he has approved the use of emergency funds to support the State’s efforts against the Zika Virus.
Governor Bentley approved the use of emergency funds up to $250,000 to assist in mosquito control efforts, after the Alabama Department of Public Health requested assistance with Zika mitigation funding.
Gov. Bentley said, “As we continue to see cases of Zika around the country, we want to make sure Alabama is prepared as possible to respond quickly, should the need arise. The funds that I have authorized are available if Alabama needs to respond and if ADPH needs to move quickly with mosquito control efforts. We do not expect the need for these funds, but I am glad to ensure the state is prepared to respond immediately to the virus.”
State Health Officer Dr. Tom Miller said, “We are very pleased that Governor Bentley has approved the use of emergency funds to assist us with combatting Zika in Alabama. It is very likely that we will have local transmission of the Zika virus by mosquitos like Florida is now experiencing. These funds will assist us to respond aggressively to protect our citizens. This is especially important for pregnant women and their unborn babies since Zika can cause severe birth defects.”
The Governor’s office said in a statement that the Alabama Department of Public Health continues to work with a variety of partners to prepare, protect, and educate Alabamians to meet the challenges of the virus. Major efforts of the department include consulting with the medical community to identify which individuals need to be tested for the Zika virus and working with medical providers and individuals who have tested positive.
Public health environmentalists have been working with communities to reduce mosquito breeding. They also conduct courtesy yard inspection of people in the vicinity of those who have tested positive for Zika.
On Monday, Congresswoman Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) wrote to constituents, “By now you’ve probably heard of the Zika virus and the harm it has caused in Brazil and other South and Central American countries. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Zika is comparable to the West Nile Virus, spread by mosquitoes and can cause fever, rash, joint pain and eye irritation. The real threat, however, is for pregnant women and their babies. Though rarely fatal, Zika can cause serious birth defects in newborn babies if an expectant mother is infected.”
Congressman Bradley Byrne said last week, “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. Roby said, “In June I relayed the good news that the House had passed Appropriations legislation providing funding for our nation’s response to the Zika virus. It is important for Congress to ensure agencies like the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health and others had the resources they need to combat the disease and prevent it from spreading.” “Sadly, two months later, that compromise funding bill has yet to become law. Why? Senate Democrats led by Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) have twice blocked the legislation by denying the majority the 60 votes needed to allow a vote on the bill.
Rep. Byrne said, “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.
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.”
The New York Times Lizzette Alvarez is reporting that the number of confirmed cases of confirmed locally transmitted Zika cases in the Miami-Dade and Broward County area is at 20, plus 1 in West Palm Beach (how that case was transmitted is still under investigation). 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.
The Alabama Department of Public Health continues to follow closely the current situation with the Zika virus and adjusts the state’s response plan accordingly.
(Original reporting by Reuters, the Miami Herald, New York Times and Fox News contributed to this report)