AAFP, Other Groups to Congress: Continue to Fund Fight Against Zika

February 17, 2017 02:38 pm News Staff

This vial contains National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Zika Virus Investigational DNA Vaccine. This image is made available under Creative Commons License 2.0.

On Feb. 10, the AAFP joined dozens of health care and other advocacy groups in signing on to a joint letter(3 page PDF) to leaders of the House and Senate committees on appropriations, urging them to continue to adequately fund efforts to combat Zika virus in fiscal year 2018 appropriations bills.

Addressed to Sens. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Reps. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., and Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., the letter states that Zika virus continues to pose a major threat to the health and well-being of pregnant women and infants in the United States.

"While transmission rates are low here during winter in the Northern Hemisphere, Zika is expected to resurge when mosquitos emerge this spring," says the letter. "Local transmission is still occurring in the southern part of the country, most notably in Texas, where a pregnant woman was recently infected."

After D.C. Lab Errors, Hundreds Being Retested for Zika

More than 400 specimens tested last year at a Washington, D.C., lab for Zika virus infection after possible viral exposure -- including nearly 300 from pregnant women -- are being retested after problems with the testing process were identified. That's according to a Feb. 16 report(dfs.dc.gov) from the District of Columbia Department of Forensic Sciences Public Health Laboratory (DC-PHL).

The move comes after DC-PHL announced on Dec. 14, 2016, that it had "decided to take the Zika MAC-ELISA (IgM antibody capture enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) test offline after discovering some technical issues." The D.C. facility originally tested the affected specimens between July 14 and Dec. 14 of last year.

The CDC and other labs will perform the retests, all of which are scheduled to be completed within three to four weeks.

The agency has specifically agreed to retest the 294 specimens from pregnant women, and that process has already begun. To date, results for 62 of those specimens have been received. Of those, 60 were negative. The remaining two specimens, according to DC-PHL, "received further confirmatory testing and came back positive as an unspecified flavivirus."

"This means that the CDC detected a recent infection with a flavivirus but precludes identification of a specific infecting virus. For epidemiological purposes, these results are treated as positive for Zika."

All results will be shared with the health care professionals who submitted specimens during the covered time period. Those clinicians will be responsible for communicating any new findings to patients.

Details of that case, which was the state's first nontravel-related Zika case in a pregnant woman, were reported(dshs.texas.gov) by the Texas Department of State Health Services. The laboratory-confirmed Zika infection occurred in a Texas resident from Bexar County who traveled to Brownsville, Texas, in November, around the time that six other Brownsville residents acquired Zika virus infection from mosquitos in the area. The woman had not traveled outside the state.

Furthermore, the letter points out, Americans continue to travel to areas with active local transmission, such as the Caribbean. "And while federal funding has allowed for tremendous progress on a Zika vaccine, it is still at least two years away from being widely available," it notes.

The letter goes on to state that the Continuing Appropriations and Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017, and Zika Response and Preparedness Act enacted in September(www.congress.gov) have been critical in supporting efforts to prevent, diagnose and treat cases of Zika virus infection and related health consequences in the past year.

"These funds are making possible rapid progress toward a vaccine, critical studies on the natural history of Zika and its health effects, and preparations for more effective vector control this summer," says the letter. "However, this single infusion of funds will not be sufficient to sustain the long-term effort needed to combat Zika."

Instead, the groups recommend a multifaceted approach that includes continued funding for NIH efforts to study the disease and develop Zika vaccines. The CDC also needs funding to conduct and improve Zika diagnostics and support state prevention efforts, such as vector control, they say.

"State, local and tribal governments must have appropriate resources for their work, including enhanced laboratory, epidemiology and surveillance capacity, continued vector control, and public awareness and education campaigns," the letter contends.

In closing, the organizations say they are currently working to develop more specific requests for Zika funding in FY 2018, which will be communicated to the appropriations committees in the coming weeks.

Related AAFP News Coverage
Texas Announces Possible Local Mosquito-transmitted Zika Case
CDC Reports on Evidence of Microcephaly Developing After Birth

'No Time to Waste'
AAFP, Other Groups Press Congress to Act Fast on Zika Funding

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