Pallone Questions Federal Health Officials on U.S. Zika Preparedness

Mar 3, 2016 Issues: Health Care

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday, Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-6), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, questioned public health officials about the current efforts to combat the Zika virus, and the possible consequences if Congress does not approve the Obama administration’s emergency funding request to study and counteract the effects of the virus.  Pallone sought details from Dr. Thomas Frieden, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), during an Oversight and Investigations subcommittee hearing on our nation’s level of preparedness in addressing the Zika virus.

“Zika represents a serious threat to global health and security, and we must address that threat decisively, both at home and abroad,” said Pallone.  “There is still much we do not know about the virus and its impacts on human health, so we need to give agencies including the CDC and NIH the resources they need to fully monitor the ongoing spread of this virus and find effective ways to combat it.”

The World Health Organization recently declared that the Zika virus, which has spread to the Americas and has been identified in 20 states, is a public health emergency. The virus is transmitted by mosquitos and while symptoms—which only show in one-in-five people infected by the virus—are usually mild, it may also cause neurological conditions. When Zika infects pregnant women, mother-to-child transmission may lead to miscarriage or certain birth defects, including microcephaly, in which a child is born with an abnormally small head and brain.

Last month, Pallone toured the Child Health Institute of New Jersey and held a discussion with public health and disease transmission experts from Rutgers University to hear from those studying conditions related to Zika.  During the roundtable discussion, Pallone heard repeated calls to upgrade the nation’s health infrastructure so that researchers can more adequately respond to outbreaks of viruses that were once isolated, but are now spreading to more temperate climates due to increased travel and global warming. 

Yesterday’s Energy & Commerce Oversight and Investigations subcommittee hearing featured two panels of public health experts including the aforementioned Dr. Frieden and Dr. Fauci; Dr. Luciana Borio, Acting Chief Scientist, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA); Dr. Nicole Lurie, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS); Dr. Timothy Persons, Chief Scientist, Government Accountability Office (GAO); and multiple experts in academia.  President Obama has requested $1.8 billion in emergency funding in his FY2017 budget to enhance domestic and international efforts to combat Zika, including work on the development of vaccines and diagnostics, and to improve scientific understanding of the disease.