U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., says the Senate is likely to vote by next week on money to be used to fight the Zika virus, the disease spread by mosquitoes and blamed for thousands of debilitating birth defects in South and Central America.
In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Blunt denied assertions by some Senate Democrats, and the White House, that he and other Senate Republicans have been dragging their feet when it comes to allocating money to battle the insects and the virus.
Blunt acknowledged that Zika, and the mosquitoes that carry it, are likely to arrive in Missouri this summer.
Zika also is linked to a type of deadly paralysis in some adults.
Blunt, the lead GOP negotiator in talks with Democrats, said any legislative delay has not affected any administration anti-Zika efforts.
He noted that the White House just recently reallocated about $600 million from other medical programs. Much of that was unneeded money earmarked to fight Ebola, which never became a major public-health problem in the United States, despite fears several years ago.
Zika may be a different story. Blunt acknowledged that there are health risks, especially for pregnant women, and that southern states — including Missouri — are likely to see the mosquito and the disease this summer.
Blunt said he expects to meet soon with Florida Gov. Rick Scott. Florida expects to be among the first hit by Zika. Florida Sen. Bill Nelson is among the Democrats who have accused Republicans of ignoring the public-health threat posed by Zika.
So far, close to 400 Americans — generally travelers or their spouses — have contracted the Zika virus. Health officials say it appears the disease can be spread through sexual contact, among other ways, and that the virus may remain dormant in a person’s body for a couple months.
Blunt acknowledged that Zika is a particular threat to pregnant women and women considering pregnancy. Some South American countries have been calling for women of child-bearing age to avoid getting pregnant – in some cases for 18 months or longer.
Blunt said one of the key issues for Republicans was in making sure that the money sought by the White House allegedly to fight Zika wasn’t diverted to other spending. He cited an $80 million request from the Centers for Disease Control that he contended appeared initially to be to cover the construction costs for two buildings.
The buildings are now out, but the $80 million request remains, Blunt said.
The senator added that there are two issues. “You’ve really got a process of both trying to eradicate a mosquito that carries this particular virus and then an education component of people understanding what they ought to be cautious about and what they can do about it,” he said.”
Blunt added that he hoped a vaccine would eventually be developed.