The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned on Tuesday that federal funds to fight the Zika virus were nearly exhausted, and that if Congress did not replenish them soon, there would be no money to fight a new outbreak.
As of Friday, the C.D.C. had spent $194 million of the $222 million it was allocated to fight the virus, said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the agency. Congress left for its summer recess without approving additional funding. Now that the virus is actively circulating in Florida, Dr. Frieden is pressing his case for funding with new urgency.
On Tuesday, Florida officials announced three new Zika cases in Miami-Dade County. One was in Miami Beach, where the virus is already circulating. The state is trying to determine where the other two infections occurred.
The agency has sent about $35 million to Florida, much of which has already been spent, largely on killing mosquitoes. But if Florida has another cluster of Zika cases, or if one surfaced in another state, the agency would not be able to send emergency funds, Dr. Frieden said.
“The cupboard is bare, there’s no way to provide that,” Dr. Frieden said at a briefing with health reporters in Washington.
Don Stewart, deputy chief of staff to the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, said Republicans in the Senate have scheduled a vote on a $1.1 billion Zika package next Tuesday, when Congress comes back into session.
But Democrats have been blocking consideration of the Republican package because it would exclude Planned Parenthood from the list of providers that get new funding for contraception to combat spread of the virus, which can be sexually transmitted.
The issue of funding is urgent, public health experts say, because the Gulf Coast, where the Zika mosquito mostly lives, is only about halfway through peak mosquito season (it will not start to taper off until October), and the chances that the virus could start circulating in Houston or New Orleans are relatively high.
The Zika virus causes only a mild illness in most people, but it can be devastating to the developing fetuses of pregnant women who are infected — causing brains to stop developing and infants’ skulls to collapse.
There have been 16 infants born in the continental United States with what appears to be the Zika-related condition called microcephaly, Dr. Frieden said, and those numbers are likely to grow. As of Aug. 11, the C.D.C. was tracking 1,200 pregnant women who have had laboratory-confirmed Zika infections. That was up from 750 cases on July 11.
The shortfall of funding comes as officials are reporting surprising success with mosquito control in Florida. Aerial spraying over the Miami neighborhood with the locally transmitted cases in the continental United States has been highly effective, Dr. Frieden said.
The success seems to have come from combining sprays that kill adult mosquitoes with sprays that kill larvae. (Adult sprays on their own were not as effective.) The outcome goes against conventional wisdom that aerial spraying does not work against the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the type that carries Zika.
“What we’ve seen is very dramatic reduction in mosquito populations there,” Dr. Frieden said. He said the area was about halfway through the 45-day period after which it will be cleared of the virus if no new cases emerge.
Should funding not materialize, critical programs could be cut, Dr. Frieden said. For example, Puerto Rico, a territory with the largest number of Zika cases in the United States — more than 8,700 at last count — has no mosquito control agency, and the C.D.C. had requested funding to start building one.
Some funds were included in the $222 million the agency received, but not nearly enough.
“We are not able to get a good running start on it,” Dr. Frieden said.
Congress has been feuding over Zika funding since February, when President Obama made a $1.9 billion request for emergency spending to fight the virus. Republicans balked, and eventually put forth their $1.1 billion plan.
With funding dwindling, the Obama administration recently shifted $81 million away from biomedical research and antipoverty and health care programs, to keep the lights on in the development of a Zika vaccine.
One option could be for lawmakers to include money for Zika in the larger stopgap funding measure to keep the government running that Congress must begin working on next week. It is an open question whether Republicans and Democrats could agree on a compromise amount, but the growing number of Zika cases in Florida lends a new urgency to the matter.
“If they don’t have money left in their grants, we don’t have money left, either,” Dr. Frieden said of states and their emergency-preparedness funds.
Originally posted in The New York Times.