Senate Democrats have blocked the $1.1 billion plan to fight the Zika virus for a third time after Republicans sought to stop funding for pro-abortion group Planned Parenthood.
Lawmakers say they hope the issue will be resolved later this month as part of a bipartisan spending package.
The 52-46 vote came as Florida health officials announced seven more locally transmitted cases of Zika.
Florida has now reported 56 locally transmitted cases of Zika, which is often spread by mosquitoes.
Florida officials have called on lawmakers to release funds to help fight the spread of the disease, which is linked to severe birth defects in pregnant women.
The Republican-backed Senate bill included a provision that would have prevented Planned Parenthood in Puerto Rico from receiving new funding to fight the spread of the Zika virus, which can be s**ually transmitted.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, said Republicans were “more interested in attacking Planned Parenthood” than “protecting women and babies from this awful virus”.
Democrats blocked similar funding measures in June and July before Congress left for the summer recess.
Before the vote, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blamed his Democratic counterparts: “It’s hard to explain why, despite their own calls for funding, Democrats would block plans to keep women and babes safe from Zika.”
Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan has indicated that lawmakers will work to include funding for Zika in a budget deal or a continuing resolution that Congress must pass to avoid a government shutdown at the end of September.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that it had spent nearly all of the $22 million allocated to the agency in the fight against Zika.
As of late August, there were more than 2,700 cases in United States and more than 14,000 in US territories, most of which were reported in Puerto Rico.
Three types of vaccine have been shown to be completely protective against the Zika virus.
Scientists found all three offered protection in tests on rhesus monkeys.
Zika virus has been deemed a public health emergency, because it can cause serious birth defects.
Photo AFP/Getty Images
Teams around the world are working to design a vaccine that can be given to people, but it is likely to be years before any is ready for widespread use.
More than 60 countries and territories now have continuing transmission of Zika virus, which is carried by mosquitoes.
The scientists in this latest study used three different approaches often used in vaccine development – one was an inactive, and therefore harmless, replica of the virus and two others used parts of the Zika virus’s genetic code.
All three offered complete protection and none were linked to major side-effects.
American scientists, including experts from the military, say their results mark a further promising step forward in the search for a jab against the Zika virus.
The next step will be early trials, possibly later this year, to establish that the vaccine is safe and effective in humans.
Once considered not so serious, Zika Virus is fast becoming a nightmare. People with Zika infections have symptoms that can include mild fever, skin rash, conjunctivitis, muscle pain, joint pain and headache. In the last two years, national health authorities of Brazil and French Polynesia reported potential neurological and auto-immune complications of Zika virus disease. In Brazil, the authorities also observed an increase in Guillain-Barre syndrome (an autoimmune disorder that can lead to life-threatening paralysis) which coincided with Zika virus infections in the general public, as well as an increase in babies born with microcephaly in northeast Brazil.
In Brazil, over 1200 microcephaly cases were recorded in 2015. The tenfold rise in a year time is believed to be connected with a spreading of the Zika Virus in South America in recent years.
Recently, studies published on Zika virus by UCLA finds significant genetic changes in the strain compared with one discovered 70 years back. The researchers are tracing the genetic mutation to understand how the transmission happens from person to person and how the virus causes different
Zika virus is transmitted through the vector Aedes aegypti, the same mosquito that transmits dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever. Also, sexual transmission of Zika virus is possible. The possibility of transmission via blood is being investigated.
More than 50% of the world population lives in regions where mosquitos are prevalent and Aedes aegypti population is extremely difficult to control. This puts the larger part of the population living in tropical and developing countries at much larger risk.
The World Health Organization (WHO) promotes the elimination of mosquito breeding sites as the most effective way of protecting people from Zika, Dengue, Chikungunya and Yellow fever. Usage of repellents for personal protection against mosquito bites is also recommended. Fogging is advocated only in an emergency and is advised to be carried out only during the hours around dawn and dusk when mosquito activity is most intense. WHO is also exploring newer methods (currently in trials) to bring down the population of the vector in regions severely infected by Zika virus.
In 2016, Spain confirmed that a pregnant woman has been diagnosed with the Zika virus, first such case in Europe. Previously, European countries including Ireland and Denmark reported Zika-virus infections in the country, but not in pregnant women.
Zika virus in the United States and other countries are mainly linked to people travelling to and from Brazil. In the period between September 2009 and August 2015, the number of travelers from Brazil to the United States was nearly 2.8 million.
Given the growing severity of this infectious disease, there is a fair number of drug developers looking into a possible Zika virus cure. Some of the notable ones are Inovio Pharma, NewLink Genetics, Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline, and Cerus. The possible cure is expected to be available in the form of vaccines according to various sources within the pharmaceutical industry.
Intrexon, a company involved in biologic insect controls, has developed genetically modified male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes focused on passing a genetic mutation to the next generation of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. This new genetic insertion kills the new generation of mosquitoes before they reach the reproductive adult stage. The pest control method by Intrexon was announced environmentally safe by The Food and Drug Administration in March 2016. This could really be the start of Zika-virus combat mission.
Brazil has deployed more than 220,000 soldiers across the country to warn people about the risks of the Zika virus.
The South American country is at the center of an outbreak of the Zika virus, which has been linked to a surge in babies being born with underdeveloped brains.
Brazil has 462 confirmed cases of microcephaly, and is investigating another 3,852 suspected cases.
Troops will hand out 4 million leaflets advising people about the risks of the virus, carried by mosquitoes.
However, critics have said the move would not helping reduce mosquito numbers or stop the spread of Zika.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a global public health emergency over the possible connection between Zika and microcephaly, a condition marked by abnormally small heads in newborn babies that can result in developmental problems.
The link with Zika has not been confirmed, but the WHO and other public health bodies have said it is strongly suspected.
On February 12, the WHO said it expected that a link would be established within weeks between Zika, microcephaly and another neurological disorder, Guillain-Barre syndrome.
The microcephaly cases have been centered in north-east Brazil, but the Zika outbreak has affected people in more than 20 countries in the Americas.
Some governments have advised women to delay getting pregnant. Already-pregnant women have been advised not to travel to the countries affected.
Rio de Janeiro is to host the Olympic Games in August. A diving test event is to take place in the city next week, and organizers said on February 12 that some of the 270 athletes taking part had expressed their concern over the Zika virus.
The World Health Organization is holding an emergency meeting in Geneva to discuss the “explosive” spread of the Zika virus.
The meeting will decide whether to declare a global emergency.
According to WHO officials, Zika as moving “from a mild threat to one of alarming proportions”.
Most cases will have no symptoms but the virus has been linked to brain abnormalities in thousands of babies in Brazil.
Meanwhile Brazilian officials have been given permission to break into properties that could be harboring mosquito breeding grounds.
They will be able to force entry when the place is abandoned or when nobody is there to give access to the house.
Declaring a “public health emergency of international concern” would establish Zika as a serious global threat and lead to money, resources and scientific expertise being thrown at the problem both in South America and in laboratories around the world.
The WHO’s actions are under intense scrutiny after its handling of the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.
Its efforts to prevent the spread of the virus were widely criticized and it was deemed to have been too slow to declare an emergency.
At the meeting, experts in disease control, virology and vaccine development will brief WHO director general Dr. Margaret Chan.
Last week, Margaret Chan said: “The level of concern is high, as is the level of uncertainty.
“Questions abound – we need to get some answers quickly.
“For all these reasons, I have decided to convene an emergency committee.
“I am asking the committee for advice on the appropriate level of international concern and for recommended measures that should be undertaken in affected countries and elsewhere.”
Since the mosquito-borne disease was first detected in Brazil in May 2015, the Zika virus has spread to more than 20 countries.
American specialists have urged the World Health Organization (WHO) to take urgent action over the Zika virus, which they say has “explosive pandemic potential”.
Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the scientists called on the WHO to heed lessons from the Ebola outbreak and convene an emergency committee of disease experts.
They said a vaccine might be ready for testing in two years but it could be a decade before it is publicly available.
Zika, linked to birth defects as microcephaly, has caused panic in Brazil.
Thousands of people have been infected there and it has spread to some 20 countries.
Brazilian President Dilma Roussef has urged Latin America to unite in combating the virus.
Dilma Rousseff told a summit in Ecuador that sharing knowledge about the disease was the only way that it would be beaten. A meeting of regional health ministers has been called for next week.
In the JAMA article, Daniel R. Lucey and Lawrence O. Gostin say the WHO’s failure to act early in the recent Ebola crisis probably cost thousands of lives.
They warn that a similar catastrophe could unfold if swift action is not taken over the Zika virus.
“An Emergency Committee should be convened urgently to advise the Director-General about the conditions necessary to declare a Public Health Emergency of International Concern,” Daniel R. Lucey and Lawrence O. Gostin wrote.
They added: “The very process of convening the committee would catalyze international attention, funding, and research.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on January 27 the US government intended to make a more concerted effort to communicate with Americans about the risks associated with the virus.
There is no cure for the Zika virus and the hunt is on for a vaccine, led by scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch.
The researchers have visited Brazil to carry out research and collect samples and are now analyzing them in a suite of high-security laboratories in Galveston, Texas.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that Zika virus is likely to spread across nearly all of the Americas.
The Zika virus, which causes symptoms including mild fever, conjunctivitis and headache, has already been found in 21 countries in the Caribbean, North and South America.
It has been linked to thousands of babies being born with underdeveloped brains and some countries have advised women not to get pregnant.
No treatment or vaccine is available.
The Zika virus was first detected in 1947 in monkeys in Africa. There have since been small, short-lived outbreaks in people on the continent, parts of Asia and in the Pacific Islands.
It has spread on a massive scale in the Americas, where transmission was first detected in Brazil in May 2015.
Large numbers of the mosquitoes which carry the virus and a lack of any natural immunity is thought to be helping the infection to spread rapidly.
Zika is transmitted by the bite of Aedes mosquitoes, which are found in all countries in the region except Canada and Chile.
In a statement, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the regional office of the WHO, said: “PAHO anticipates that Zika virus will continue to spread and will likely reach all countries and territories of the region where Aedes mosquitoes are found.”
PAHO is advising people to protect themselves from the mosquitoes, which also spread dengue fever and chikungunya.
It also confirmed the virus had been detected in semen and there was “one case of possible person-to-person transmission” but further evidence was still needed.
Around 80% of infections do not result in symptoms.
However, the biggest concern is the potential impact on babies developing in the womb. There have been around 3,500 reported cases of microcephaly – babies born with tiny brains – in Brazil alone since October.
PAHO warned pregnant women to be “especially careful” and to see their doctor before and after visiting areas affected by the Zika virus.
Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador and Jamaica last week recommended women delay pregnancies until more was known about the virus.
Although officially PAHO says “any decision to defer pregnancy is an individual one between a woman, her partner and her healthcare provider”.
Prof. Laura Rodrigues, a fellow of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences and from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said some data suggested that up to one-in-fifty babies had birth defects in one of the worst hit areas – Pernambuco state in Brazil.
She said: “Until November we knew nothing, this has caught us by surprise and we’re trying to learn as fast as we can.
“Wherever there is dengue, there is mosquito, then it will spread and not just in Americas I think there is a very real chance it will spread in Asia.”
PAHO advice is to ensure all containers that can hold even small amounts of water should be emptied and cleaned to prevent mosquitoes breeding.
People should protect themselves by using insect repellent, covering up and keeping windows and doors closed.
Authorities in Rio de Janeiro have announced plans to prevent the spread of the Zika virus during the Olympic Games later this year.
Zika outbreak – which is being linked to severe birth defects – has caused growing concern in Brazil and abroad.
Inspections of Olympic facilities will begin four months before the Games to get rid of mosquito breeding grounds.
Daily sweeps will also take place during the Games.
However, fumigation would only be an option on a case-by-case basis because of concerns for the health of the athletes and visitors.
The Brazilian health ministry says it is also banking on the fact that the Games are taking place in the cooler, drier month of August when mosquitoes are far less evident and there are considerably less cases of mosquito-borne virus.
Brazil has the largest-known outbreak of the Zika virus which has been linked to a spike in birth defects in new-born babies whose mothers were bitten by the mosquito during pregnancy.
The US, Canada and EU health agencies have issued warnings saying pregnant women should avoid travelling to Brazil and other countries in the Americas which have registered cases of Zika.
Officials in Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador and Jamaica have warned women to avoid pregnancy amid concerns over an illness causing severe birth defects.
The four countries recommended to delay pregnancies until more was known about the mosquito-borne Zika virus.
This followed an outbreak in Brazil.
Brazil said the number of babies born with suspected microcephaly – or abnormally small heads – had reached nearly 4,000 since October.
Meanwhile, US health authorities have warned pregnant women to avoid travelling to more than 20 countries in the Americas and beyond, where Zika cases have been registered.
The link between microcephaly and Zika virus has not been confirmed – but a small number of babies who died had the virus in their brain and no other explanation for the surge in microcephaly has been suggested.
The virus is not contagious and normally has flu-like symptoms.
In Colombia, Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria urged women to delay pregnancies for up to eight months.
“We are doing this because I believe it’s a good way to communicate the risk, to tell people that there could be serious consequences,” he was quoted as saying by Reuters.
Similar warnings were issued in Ecuador, El Salvador and Jamaica.
However, women’s rights campaigners criticized the recommendations, saying women in the region often had little choice about becoming pregnant.
Monica Roa, a member of Women’s Link Worldwide group, said: “It’s incredibly naive for a government to ask women to postpone getting pregnant in a context such as Colombia, where more than 50% of pregnancies are unplanned and across the region where sexual violence is prevalent.”
Forty-nine babies with suspected microcephaly have died, Brazil’s health ministry says. In five of these cases an infection with Zika virus was found.
Brazil is experiencing the largest known outbreak of Zika, with most cases in the north-east. Others have been detected in the south-east, an area which includes Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.
There has been a sharp rise in the number of cases of Zika in several other Latin American countries.
In Colombia, more than 13,500 cases have been reported.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued initial travel warnings to pregnant women last week, adding eight more places to the list on January 22. The warnings now extend to:
Central and South America: Bolivia, Ecuador, Guyana, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela
Caribbean: Barbados, Saint Martin, Haiti, Martinique, Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe
According to new figures, more Brazilian babies were born with abnormally small heads to mothers infected with the Zika virus.
There have been 3,893 cases of microcephaly since October, when the authorities first noticed a surge, up from 3,500 in last week’s report.
The Zika virus is transmitted by the bite of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which also spreads dengue and chikungunya.
Brazil is experiencing the largest known outbreak of Zika.
The Zika virus has already killed five babies in the country, said the health ministry. Another 44 deaths are being investigated to determine if they were caused by Zika.
Last week, the Brazilian Health Minister Marcelo Castro said a new testing kit was being developed to identify quickly the presence of either of the three viruses.
Marcelo Castro also announced extra funds to speed the development of a vaccine for Zika “in record time”.
At the moment the only way to fight Zika is to clear standing water where mosquitoes breed.
There has been a sharp rise in the number of cases of Zika in several other Latin American countries.
In Colombia, more than 13,500 cases have been reported.
“We are the second country [in Latin America] after Brazil in the number of reported cases,” said Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria.
He has advised women in the country not to get pregnant for the rest of the outbreak, which he said could last until July.
In Bolivia, the authorities have reported the first case of a pregnant woman diagnosed with Zika.
“She has not travelled outside the country. This is a home-grown case,” Joaquin Monasterio, director of Health Services for the eastern department of Santa Cruz told the AFP news agency.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an alert on January 15 advising pregnant women to avoid travelling to Brazil and other Latin American and Caribbean countries where outbreaks of Zika have been registered.
The travel alert applies to Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela and Puerto Rico.