Thursday, February 22, 2018
Health

Trying to get jump on Zika preparations with money in limbo

WASHINGTON — Beg, borrow and steal: Zika preparation involves a bit of all three as federal, state and local health officials try to get a jump on the mosquito-borne virus while Congress haggles over how much money they really need.

With that financing in limbo, health officials are shifting resources and setting priorities — and not just in states where mosquitoes are starting to buzz. All but six states so far have seen travel-associated cases of Zika.

"Stealing money from myself" is how Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health describes raiding his agency's malaria, tuberculosis and influenza programs to fund a Zika vaccine.

RELATED COVERAGE: For pregnant women in Tampa Bay, a lack of answers heightens worries about Zika

He needs more cash by the end of June to keep the vaccine on schedule. And there's no guarantee those other critical diseases will recoup about $20 million.

"If we don't get something soon, then we're going to have a real problem," Fauci said.

Adding to the stress: What if another health emergency comes along at the same time?

"It's Zika now, but three months from now, who knows what it might be?" said Dr. Tim Jones, state epidemiologist in Tennessee, where few counties have mosquito eradication efforts.

Yet with funding pleas unanswered, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shifted $44 million to Zika from emergency preparedness grants that help state and local health departments with crises from flu outbreaks to hurricanes.

"You have to be careful when you take cuts from core infrastructure for the disease of the day," Tennessee's Jones said. "That's a risky way to do things."

Zika can cause devastating birth defects and fetal death if pregnant women become infected. Mosquitoes aren't yet spreading Zika in the continental U.S., but the epidemic in Latin America and the Caribbean has experts predicting small outbreaks here as mosquito season heats up. The more than 540 U.S. cases diagnosed so far involve travel to outbreak areas or sex with infected travelers. The CDC is tracking the outcomes of 157 Zika-infected pregnant women in the U.S., plus another 122 in U.S. territories.

Three months ago, President Barack Obama requested $1.9 billion in emergency funding to fend off Zika. The House and Senate are arguing over how much to grant — and whether the money should come from cuts to other programs — with no final agreement in sight. House Republicans say the administration has padded its Zika request.

The Obama administration already shifted nearly $600 million from funds for Ebola flare-ups in West Africa and other accounts. On Friday, the president said lifetime care for a child born with Zika-caused brain damage may cost up to $10 million.

"Add that up. It doesn't take a lot of cases for you to get to $1.9 billion. Why wouldn't we want to make that investment now?" Obama said.

Many state and local health departments aren't waiting, but efforts vary widely:

• Florida is no stranger to mosquito-borne outbreaks — it has handled small outbreaks of dengue, carried by the same mosquito as Zika — and is squeezing money out of its usual budget to step up training and traps for areas that need extra help. Officials opened a Zika information hotline that has fielded more than 1,700 calls since February. Miami-Dade County is stepping up enforcement of standing water violations and statewide, residents are being told to screen windows and rid their property of containers that trap rainwater.

Gov. Rick Scott has said the threat of a Zika outbreak should trigger the same response as an approaching hurricane and last week lobbied in Washington for more resources. While Scott hasn't named a dollar figure, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has supported Obama's request. "It's a mistake for Congress to try and deal with Zika on the cheap," he said on Friday.

• New Orleans' health department has begun sending staffers into neighborhoods to educate residents about Zika and advise them on making their yards less mosquito-friendly — workers also preparing for hurricane season.

"Whether we get money or not, we're going to do what we got to do," said health director Charlotte Parent. "But it sure would help to have those extra bodies to get that work done."

• Virginia took about $700,000 remaining from a federal Ebola grant to hire two mosquito biologists, pay for some testing of mosquitoes and travelers, and educate the public, including plans to hang information on 450,000 doors.

This marks Virginia's first mosquito surveillance program since 2007.

• Texas can perform dozens of blood tests a week for Zika, but that capacity could easily be overwhelmed if there's an outbreak, Health Commissioner John Hellerstedt said.

The state is spending $2 million in federal emergency preparedness money on public awareness but can't estimate how much more it needs, in part because mosquito control, like in many states, is funded almost entirely at the county and local level.

• Savannah and surrounding Chatham County has Georgia's best-funded mosquito-control department at $3.8 million and will send some mosquitoes for Zika testing at the University of Georgia.

"A lot of these counties wouldn't be able to afford to do that," said Savannah mosquito control director Jeff Heusel.

Comments
Doctors ordered a urine test after her surgery. That’ll be $17,850, the lab said

Doctors ordered a urine test after her surgery. That’ll be $17,850, the lab said

This is the debut of a monthly feature from Kaiser Health News and NPR that will dissect and explain real medical bills in order to shed light on U.S. health care prices and to help patients learn how to be more active in managing costs. Do you have ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Preventive treatment for peanut allergies succeeds in study

Preventive treatment for peanut allergies succeeds in study

The first treatment to help prevent serious allergic reactions to peanuts may be on the way. A company said Tuesday that its daily capsules of peanut flour helped sensitize children to nuts in a major study. Millions of children have peanut allergies...
Published: 02/20/18
Doctors were wrong when they told her immunotherapy wouldn’t cure her cancer

Doctors were wrong when they told her immunotherapy wouldn’t cure her cancer

No one expected the four young women to live much longer. They had an extremely rare, aggressive and fatal form of ovarian cancer. There was no standard treatment.The women, strangers to one another living in different countries, asked their doctors ...
Published: 02/20/18

Hernando Bloodmobile for Feb. 23

Bloodmobile locationsLifeSouth Community Blood Center will have blood drives at the following off-site locations during the coming week:Feb. 23: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Walmart, 13300 Cortez Blvd., Spring Hill; 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Dickey’s Barbecue P...
Published: 02/20/18
Be prepared to help save a life: Learn CPR

Be prepared to help save a life: Learn CPR

70 percent of cardiac arrests outside hospitals happen at home. American Heart Association 3 a.m. Jan. 4, 2016. Lisa Peters of St. Petersburg is awakened by her husband, Rick, making strange gasping sounds. She can’t wake him. He feels cold. Only 46...
Published: 02/16/18

Step by step, ramp up your daily activity

Jae Bermanhe Washington Post There are many reasons that people avoid exercise. Time is an obvious one. Our lives are already busy — who has time to work out? Money is another common excuse. Gym memberships and equipment can get pricey.People often w...
Published: 02/16/18
Put Alaskan king crab leg shells to work in a creamy, dreamy bisque

Put Alaskan king crab leg shells to work in a creamy, dreamy bisque

Nothing says indulgence like noshing on some seriously giant Alaskan king crab legs. They’re not just tasty, they’re a low-fat source of protein: One leg has about 25 grams of protein and a host of vitamins and minerals (including sodium, incidentall...
Published: 02/15/18
Avocado toast gets a persimmon twist

Avocado toast gets a persimmon twist

You’ve likely seen persimmon in the grocery store and then shied away from it, not quite sure what to do with it. The most common variety in the United States is the fuyu persimmon, also called Japanese persimmon, and it looks similar to a slightly f...
Published: 02/15/18
News co-anchor Dan Harris delves into meditation, and why being distracted is ‘a victory’

News co-anchor Dan Harris delves into meditation, and why being distracted is ‘a victory’

Emma Seppalahe Washington PostDan Harris is co-anchor of ABC’s Nightline and the weekend editions of Good Morning America. His first book, 10% Happier, was a No. 1 New York Times bestseller. He later launched the 10% Happier podcast and an app called...
Published: 02/15/18

Mayo Clinic Q&A: exercise stress tests; breast self-awareness versus self-exams

DON’T SWEAT THE EXERCISE STRESS TESTI have a treadmill stress test scheduled to look for heart disease. I know this involves exercising, and I’m worried that I’m not physically up to it. Is there another way to gather this information?Yes. There’s an...
Published: 02/15/18