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E&C Dem Leaders Request Update on Zika Preparation Amid Reports that Federal Support to States May Be Discontinued in July

May 19, 2017
Press Release
“Urgent questions exist as to whether sufficient funding is available to respond to the probable uptick in Zika virus infections during the upcoming summer travel and mosquito season.”

Democratic Leaders of the Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Acting Director Dr. Anne Schuchat today requesting an update on the CDC’s Zika virus outbreak preparedness and response capabilities in anticipation of the increase in cases of Zika virus infections over the summer months.  The letter was signed by Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Vice Ranking Member Kathy Castor (D-FL), Health Subcommittee Ranking Member Gene Green (D-TX), and Oversight Subcommittee Ranking Member Diana DeGette (D-CO).

The letter follows recent reports from PBS citing fears from state health officials after CDC told them to expect that federal funding support may be discontinued in July.  The funding at risk includes money for surveillance of Zika-related birth defects, education of women and doctors about those defects, and follow-up with families with babies born to women who were infected with the Zika virus during pregnancy.

The risk to pregnant women led to the approval of $1.1 billion in Zika supplemental funding in September 2016, which included $394 million to support CDC and its state, local and territorial partners’ response efforts. This funding level was lower than the $1.89 billion that the Obama Administration requested earlier that year.

“While this funding has supported CDC and its state, local, and territorial partners’ response efforts up to this point, urgent questions exist as to whether sufficient funding is available to respond to the probable uptick in Zika virus infections during the upcoming summer travel and mosquito season,” the four committee leaders wrote. “State health officials have said that the absence of this funding ‘could harm their ability to prepare for an inevitable wave of new infections, or to provide services for babies already struggling with Zika-related birth defects.’”  

Although the Zika virus does not usually cause major symptoms or complications in infected individuals, it poses a significant risk to pregnant women in the U.S.  Infection during pregnancy can cause women to have babies with microcephaly, a very serious condition characterized by a small head and brain, and other birth defects.

The continental U.S. has seen 5,273 Zika virus cases reported as of May 10, 2017, with an additional 36,581 cases reported in the U.S. territories.  Ten percent of women in the continental U.S. infected with Zika during pregnancy had a fetus or baby with Zika-related birth defects, with that number rising to 15 percent for women who were infected during their first trimester.

In their request to CDC, the four committee leaders requested answers to several key questions including:

  • How much CDC funding remains available for Zika virus activities in fiscal year 2017?
  • What Zika grants, programs, or activities has CDC been unable to support due to a lack of resources?
  • Are there state or local public health grants, programs, or activities that will lose CDC funding in July as reported by PBS? 
  • If federal funding for state and local surveillance initiatives is reduced as detailed in the PBS article, what will be the effect on the accuracy, quality, and thoroughness of CDC’s federal surveillance data in 2017? 
  • If the incidence of Zika virus and Zika-related birth defects in 2017 remains similar to that in 2016, how much federal funding does CDC and its state, local, and territorial partners need to adequately respond?  
  • Do all at-risk areas in the U.S. have adequate capability to respond to and control outbreaks of local mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission in 2017?

A copy of the letter is available here.