While a vast majority of the 2,000-plus confirmed cases of Zika in the U.S. are travel-related, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) was in Manhattan Tuesday to learn more about the growing concern of the mosquito-carried virus.
Moran met with Dr. Stephen Higgs, the research director of the Biosecurity Research Institute on the campus of Kansas State University in Pat Roberts Hall.
“Part of my visit here is to check in on what’s happening at the BRI,” Moran said. “But of course, specifically and in a sense of timeliness, the conversation in Washington, D.C., is about Zika.”
So far Florida has seen the most confirmed local cases. The virus poses the greatest risk to pregnant women and the potential for birth defects. While mosquito bites are the most common forms of the virus’ transmission, it can be transmitted from one person to another sexually.
According to the CDC’s breakdown of the virus, many people who get infected never have symptoms. In people who get sick, symptoms (fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes) are usually mild and resolve completely.
Moran said passing legislation to combat the Zika virus has been difficult.
“We’ve cast several votes in the United States Senate on funding additional research on Zika,” he said. “Neither one of those times has that legislation succeeded in passing the Senate.”
In February, President Obama asked Congress for $1.9 billion to address the virus, but Republicans — who control the House and Senate — suggested those funds be taken out of unused monies previously passed in 2014 to fight the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.
Moran said both parties have supported different bills in both chambers, but so far, no bill has been able to survive political gamesmanship.
In May, Obama’s request was trimmed to $1.1 billion. While the Senate passed legislation, the price tag was too much for the House.
Senate Democrats have also blocked efforts by some Republicans who have added stipulations to a Zika bill that would include cuts to family planning programs and ObamaCare.
Both Moran and fellow Kansas Senator Pat Roberts were included in that group of Republicans.
Congress adjourned this summer with no Zika bill.
But on Tuesday, Moran said Zika research needs all the funding it calls for.
“I’m of the view that it’s important to increase, significantly, the amount of money available for research to try and combat, create the vaccine and eradicate the mosquito that carries the virus,” Moran said. “I hope when Congress reconvenes on Sept. 6 — the day after Labor Day — that we get our act together and reach a conclusion on the importance of scientific and medical research on Zika.”
Higgs told Moran that there are two known mosquito species capable of carrying the virus and that those two species are in Kansas.
“Zika is a threat globally, but we’ve seen significant and sufficient evidence for my sake to say it’s a threat to citizens of the United States and, potentially, to the citizens of Kansas,” Moran said.
“I wanted to get additional information so that when I return to the Senate floor and have conversations with my colleagues I can speak with great authority and more knowledge, based on what I learned from scientists and not politicians,” Moran said.
Higgs told Moran the National Institutes of Health — an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — has been helpful in funding Zika research, but Moran said he wants Congress to do its part.
“This, in my view, can’t be one of those circumstances in which Democrats are in this corner and Republicans are in this corner,” he said. “We’ve got to move to the middle of the ring and resolve our differences and get this accomplished.
“I think the health and well-being of mothers and their babies is a sufficient — more than an sufficient — call for us to set aside any kind of Republican/Democrat differences about this issue.”