Zika-carrying mosquitos are believed to have reached the U.S. mainland, with at least four cases of local transmission reported in Florida.
U.S. health officials sounded the warning on Zika months ago, and confirmation of its arrival prompted a new round of finger pointing between Democratic and Republican lawmakers who have yet to approve funds to fight the virus or the mosquitos that spread it.
“I call on GOP Congressional leadership to #doyourjob & interrupt recess to immediately address #Zika public health crisis,” tweeted Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.
For most Americans, mosquitos are a summertime annoyance. Florida must now treat them as a public health menace.
“Four people in our state likely have the virus as a result of a mosquito bite,” said Florida Governor Rick Scott. “This means Florida has become the first state in our nation to have local transmission of the Zika virus.”
Residents and visitors along America’s Gulf Coast are expressing varying degrees of apprehension.
“It does concern me for my children and my grandchildren,” said Jimmy Stewart in Galveston, Texas. “But I don’t know if it’s going to do you any good to be real worried about it because, if it’s here, it’s here.”
The Florida cases confirm what health officials predicted earlier this year: that Zika, which can cause abnormalities in newborns, would one day be contracted from mosquitos found in large swaths of the United States.
Congress adjourned in mid-July and will not get back to work until September.
In February, the Obama administration requested $1.9 billion to fight Zika. The Senate initially agreed to $1.1 billion of new spending. But negotiations between the Republican-led House and Senate yielded a bill with stipulations Democrats could not support concerning an abortion provider, the environment, and the display of the Confederate flag.
“What did the Republican leadership in Congress produce? Unfortunately, it produced a package that is totally partisan and destined to fail, and they knew it,” said Richard Durbin of Illinois after banding together with other Democrats to block the Republican-backed legislation.
“It’s inexplicable and unacceptable to not be able, on a bipartisan basis, to address this important public health care crisis,” lamented Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. “Every pregnant woman in America is following this issue. We need to act.”
Experts expect Zika-carrying mosquitos Zika to spread beyond Florida.
“Miami has a very similar climate as Houston,” said Dr. Todd Price, an infectious disease specialist. “Miami has the same mosquitos as Houston, and across the Gulf Coast. And so this is of urgency.”
Lawmakers will continue the battle over Zika funding when they return to Washington in September. For now, local and state governments must do the best they can to monitor and control mosquito populations with existing resources.