Florida is the U.S. port of entry for the Zika virus. So far, two neighborhoods in Miami have been declared places of active infestation by Zika-infected mosquitoes. The first was Wynwood, a hip community of funky, painted walls and edgy restaurants. Authorities call the infestation the Wynwood Exclusion Zone. As of this morning, Wynwood is no longer exclusive. The virus has spread to Miami Beach. There's plenty of warm and humid weather left, so Zika is on the move. That's no good for tourism, Florida's $24 billion cash crop. The Florida Congressional delegation and Governor Rick Scott are flipping out.
Zika can be traced to the forests of Uganda, where it was first identified in 1947. By 2007, it had spread to Micronesia, then French Polynesia and from there to Brazil in April 2015. Since then, Zika has been working its way north. The Center for Disease Control posted its first travel alert in January 2016. At last count, a total of 8,000 cases have been reported in the U.S.
The virus is transmitted by mosquito bite and less reliably by human sexual contact. It causes a fever similar to dengue and yellow fever. There is no cure but it is not normally fatal in adults. However, Zika poses a serious risk of complications for a pregnant woman. The virus may pass to the fetus, creating the risk of fetal brain injuries. There is a vaccine in the works, as well as a genetically modified mosquito, which dies before being able to reproduce. The most reliable strategy and toughest to execute is not getting bit.
You'd think that all politicians could agree on funding to get rid of a mosquito that eats baby's brains. You'd be wrong. The Administration requested $1.9 billion to eradicate Zika. The Senate came up with a $1.1 billion package which was defeated. It had been tied to an amendment to defund Planned Parenthood in Puerto Rico and another that eased restrictions on the use of pesticides.
The House countered with a bipartisan proposal of its own, which would allow the Administration to use $600 million left over from fighting Ebola. This one died in committee, like a genetically-modified mosquito. In April, Obama took the money from Ebola funding anyway by executive order, but it is not enough. In June, Congress went to summer camp without passing any measure at all.
Funding is needed and quickly. Just yesterday, the CDC published that maybe Zika isn't harmless for adults after all. Studies on rats suggest the possibility of an Alzheimer's-type effect on adult brains.
Still, Congress lacks a sense of the urgency of the situation. Most members are too busy worrying about reëlection to attend a special session. They're content to wait until September, when they all come back with their suntans, lanyards and possibly, hopefully, a few mosquito bites.