In The News: U.S. Senators, UMN faculty discuss Zika virus threat
Zika virus is gaining attention in the United States as mosquito season arrives. According to the Minnesota State Health Commissioner, the virus will, in one way or another, affect every state in the U.S. in the coming months.
The virus, carried and transmitted by infected Aedes mosquitoes, poses a major threat to pregnant woman and can cause extreme birth defects in unborn babies. Zika virus has also been linked to cause Guillain-Barré syndrome in certain infected patients. The virus can also be transmitted sexually, though the strain only stays in the body for a short period of time, reducing the chances for person-to-person transmission.
Though no mosquitoes of this kind typically live within Minnesota’s boarders, the importance of prevention and awareness is high.
U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken visited the University of Minnesota to discuss the immediate concern of the Zika virus in Minnesota and to talk about preventative steps. Joining the senators for the discussion were leading experts on Zika and infectious disease, including University of Minnesota faculty members and representatives from the Minnesota Department of Health.
“The mosquito season is upon us in Minnesota,” Senator Klobuchar told the Star Tribune, “and we’re starting to see this virus in the United States.”
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention are monitoring almost 300 pregnant women in U.S. territories who tested positive for the virus after traveling abroad. In recent months, Zika spread quickly throughout South and Central America, and was brought into the States by winter travelers that were bitten by the infected mosquitoes.
Michael Osterholm, Ph.D., M.P.H., director of the Center of Infectious Disease Research & Policy, assured the senators any Zika outbreaks occurring within the United States would be in isolated clusters and the immediate risk of the Zika virus in Minnesota remains low.
A main conversation of the table, however, was the backlog of Zika testing for concerned patients and travelers. Currently, medical facilities cannot keep up with testing requests from patients who may have been in contact with the virus. Better surveillance, tracking, and infrastructure needs to be prepared to identify the virus and protect people nationwide.
Earlier in May, Klobuchar and Franken helped pass a bill in the Senate, asking Washington for $1.1 billion in emergency funding to fight the Zika virus. Since then, The House has approved a $622 million bill contributing to the cause, which is intended to last through September.