Zika Has Arrived, But is the U.S. Ready?

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WASHINGTON (July 29, 2016) –The Florida Department of Health, investigating non-travel related cases of Zika in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, has concluded “that a high likelihood exists that four cases are the result of local transmission.” Despite the advance warning of Zika’s approach, Georgetown experts in infectious disease, public health law, health systems readiness and mosquito research say the United States isn’t ready for a Zika outbreak. 

Public Health Law/Congressional Funding
Lawrence O. Gostin, JD / Faculty director / O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law / Georgetown University: 

“It is shameful that Congress has not allocated ample funding to fight Zika. This places women and their babies at risk, and failure to act is unconscionable.  

“Congress has no greater responsibility than to safeguard the public’s health and security. Yet legislators have not solved the issue of needed emergency appropriations to prepare the nation for a looming Zika epidemic. Going forward Congress should create a Public Health Emergency Contingency Fund so that it will no longer play politics with the health and lives of Americans. 

“We have lost vital months where states and territories could have been building the capacity to control mosquitos, clean up breeding grounds, and educate the public.”

State of Readiness
Rebecca Katz, PhD, MPH / Director / Global Health Science and Security program / Georgetown University Medical Center:

“While local health departments are doing everything in their power to educate the population about the threat of Zika and how to avoid mosquito bites, it is an uphill battle without enough funds for sufficient mosquito control programs.  

“With every new scientific report, we see just how little we know about this virus — specifically the details of how it is transmitted. 

“There will always be emerging disease, and it is impossible to predict what will come next.  But we need to have strong public health infrastructure in place, indicator and event based surveillance systems, and sufficient funding for research and development of medical countermeasures.” 

Mosquito Movement in the U.S.
Peter Armbruster, PhD / Associate Professor of Biology (mosquito research)/ Georgetown University

“This development is of considerable concern in part because mosquito populations in Florida and throughout the eastern US are expected to increase throughout August, thereby increasing the likelihood of mosquito-borne transmission of the virus.  Furthermore, we need more research to determine which resident North American mosquitoes are capable of transmitting Zika virus so that we can more accurately predict risks and target intervention efforts.”

To arrange an interview, please contact Karen Teber at km463@georgetown.edu.

Other resources:

-JAMA Viewpoint: Is the United States Prepared for a Major Zika Virus Outbreak?, April 13, 2016, by Lawrence O. Gostin, JD and James G. Hodge Jr, JD, LLM

-JAMA Viewpoint: The Emerging Zika Pandemic: Enhancing Preparedness, March 1, 2016, by Daniel R. Lucey, MD, MPH and Lawrence O. Gostin, JD

Click here for a list of Zika subject matter experts at Georgetown.  Expertise includes infectious disease (clinical and molecular biology), mosquito biology, environmental history, global health preparedness, public health law, maternal health and neurology (Guillain-Barré syndrome and microcephaly).