Opinion

Get moving on Zika

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday officially blamed the Zika virus for causing birth defects in infected mothers. It’s something that everyone believed to be true, but everyone has been wrong before.

This pronouncement is based on study of existing data and comes just two days after the CDC’s Dr. Anne Schuchat said: “Everything we look at with this virus seems to be a bit scarier than we initially thought.”

In addition to microcephaly, a condition in which a baby’s head is abnormally small and doesn’t allow the brain to develop properly, CDC officials say the virus can cause premature birth and blindness. It can be spread sexually, meaning it’s not enough to avoid the bite of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes to stay safe. In other words, a Zika outbreak is a potential catastrophe for the next generation.

CDC director Thomas Frieden said Wednesday that this report marks a turning point in the outbreak. But is enough to turn the minds of congressional Republicans resistant to forking over emergency funding? President Barack Obama asked for $1.8 billion in February. Congress balked, indicating that the money left over from the Ebola outbreak ought to be plenty for Zika preparation.

That argument seemed a lot more reasonable last month. This week, not so much. The U.S. has reported only about 700 cases of Zika so far – half of them in tropical Puerto Rico – but officials anticipate hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of cases in the Western Hemisphere this year. Yikes.

To its credit, Congress did pass a bill this week to incentivize pharmaceutical companies to develop a Zika vaccine quickly. And Obama did reallocate the Ebola funds, about half a billion dollars, but CDC folks say neither is enough. I am certainly no expert in public health funding, but it does seem to be pound foolish to drag our feet on taking preventative measures just before the mosquito season begins.

Mariel Garza is a member of the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board. Readers may send her email at mariel.garza@latimes.com.

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