— -- With “well over 500” cases of the Zika virus currently in the U.S., Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on “This Week” Sunday that “forceful preparation” will be critical to preventing further spread in the U.S. this summer.
“We already have Zika in the United States. But it is travel related,” Dr. Fauci said on ABC’s “This Week.” “The concern is that we will have local transmission; in other words, people who get infected in the United States, get bitten by a mosquito, but who have never left the continental United States. We fully expect that that will happen as we get to the more robust mosquito season in the next month or so.”
“We need to make sure that those local outbreaks don’t become sustained and don’t become disseminated,” Fauci added. “That’s the reason why we need to have a very, very forceful preparation right now before that happens.”
The Centers for Disease Control released new figures on Friday showing that 157 pregnant women in the continental U.S. show evidence of possible Zika virus infection, all related to travel outside the U.S. President Obama has requested Congress to allocate $1.9 billion in emergency funding to combat the spread of the virus.
“This is something that is solvable. It is not something that we have to panic about. But it is something that we have to take seriously,” President Obama said Friday after meeting with Fauci and other top advisers tackling Zika. “This is not something where we can build a wall to prevent – mosquitoes don't go through customs. To the extent that we're not handling this thing on the front end, we're going to have bigger problems on the back end.”
A vaccine to combat Zika would be the main focus of government funding, according to Fauci, saying “We’re right now very aggressively developing the vaccine.”
The Senate passed a $1.1 billion plan to combat Zika on Thursday, while House Republicans have advanced a separate $622 million bill that shifts previously established funds to combat the spread of Ebola. While efforts to prevent a widespread Ebola outbreak from West Africa to the U.S. were successful, Fauci called the idea of shifting those funds away from Ebola “very foolhardy.”
“We may not see it in the front page of the newspapers… but we have the danger of cropping up of Ebola,” Fauci said. “We can't take our eye off the ball with Ebola. And that would really be robbing Peter to pay Paul and I think very foolhardy to do that.”
Asked whether concerns about Zika were being overhyped, ABC News’ Chief Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser said greater vigilance is always needed when dealing with a new virus.
“When there’s a new outbreak, a new infectious disease, you have to go all in, because you don’t know in the long run what it’s going to look like,” he said on “This Week.”
Concern surrounding the Zika virus has even prompted some countries and athletes to consider skipping the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, where the virus and potential birth defects were first spotlighted.
Dr. Besser urged pregnant women to follow CDC guidelines to not to travel to Brazil and other impacted countries in South America, Central America and the Caribbean, and for those who plan on attending to be proactive to prevent mosquito bites.