January 28, 2016

As Zika Virus Continues to Spread, Senator Gillibrand Urges National Institutes of Health to Accelerate Development of Vaccine and Treatment

Zika Virus Has Now Spread to at Least 24 Countries and Territories In Letter to the Director, Senator Gillibrand Urges National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to Take Immediate Action & Expedite Research to Combat Zika Virus

Washington, D.C. – As Zika virus continues to spread rapidly throughout Americas, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today urged the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to take immediate action to combat the spread of the Zika virus. In a letter sent to NIAID’s director, Senator Gillibrand urged the agency to prioritize research on ways to combat the spread of the virus, which has already reached at least 24 countries and territories and has been contracted by roughly a dozen Americans. Gillibrand will also urge her colleagues on the Senate Appropriations Committee to provide NIAID with emergency funding to support the development of screening, treatment, and prevention technologies.

“The imminent threat of Zika to the United States is deeply troubling, as are reports that the development of a vaccine could take as long as ten years,” Senator Gillibrand said in her letter to NIAID. “The Zika virus has now spread to at least 24 countries and territories. I strongly urge you to shift resources as necessary to aggressively combat this global health challenge.”

The Zika virus is transmitted by the aggressive Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitos. These mosquitos are found throughout much of the Americas, including several parts of the United States. Although local transmission of the Zika virus has not been documented in the continental United States, Zika virus infections have been reported in returning travelers. In light of the recent outbreaks in the Americas, the number of Zika cases among US travelers is likely to increase. These imported cases could possibly result in local human-to-mosquito-to-human spread of the virus in areas of the United States that have the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquito vectors.

 

Little progress has been made to date in regards to the development of technologies for diagnosis, treatment and prevention of the Zika virus. Currently, the only way to prevent Zika virus infection is to avoid mosquito bites. While the NIH has begun some initial work, additional investment in research and collaboration with scientists in other affected countries is necessary to prevent the future spread of the virus.

 

Below is the full text of Senator Gillibrand’s Letter:

 

January 28, 2016

 

Anthony Fauci, M.D.

Director

National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)

9000 Rockville Pike

Bethesda, Maryland 20892

 

Dear Director Fauci:     

 

I write to urge you to prioritize research into developing diagnostic tests, vaccines and therapeutic drugs to fight the continued spread of the Zika virus. The Zika virus has now spread to at least 24 countries and territories. The imminent threat of Zika to the United States is deeply troubling, as are reports that the development of a vaccine could take as long as ten years. I strongly urge you to shift resources as necessary to aggressively combat this global health challenge.

 

The Zika virus is transmitted by the aggressive Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitos. These mosquitos are found throughout much of the Americas, including several parts of the United States. Although local transmission of the Zika virus has not been documented in the continental United States, Zika virus infections have been reported in returning travelers. In light of the recent outbreaks in the Americas, the number of Zika cases among US travelers is likely to increase. These imported cases could possibly result in local human-to-mosquito-to-human spread of the virus in areas of the United States that have the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquito vectors.

 

In addition to mosquito-to-human transmission – and of particular concern – is the transmission of the Zika virus during pregnancy. Several countries have already reported that babies born to infected mothers are suffering severe birth defects including microcephaly, a birth defect resulting in an abnormally small head that can cause developmental issues and even death. Over 4,000 babies in Brazil, the country currently most affected by the virus, have been born in the last year with microcephaly. While additional studies are needed to further characterize the relationship between intrauterine transmission and the development of microcephaly and other birth defects, this crisis has resulted in the issuance of unprecedented warnings by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to pregnant women to avoid travel in 14 countries and territories where Zika transmission is ongoing.

 

Little progress has been made to date in the development of technologies for diagnosis, treatment and prevention of the Zika virus. Currently, the only way to prevent Zika virus infection is to avoid mosquito bites. While the NIH has begun some initial work, additional investment in research and collaboration with scientists in other affected countries will be necessary to prevent the future spread of the virus.

 

I urge the NIAID to prioritize research regarding the Zika virus. In doing so, I encourage NIAID to coordinate with other federal agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, as well as with governments from other countries, to ensure that all efforts are being made to address this pressing matter. In addition, I will urge my colleagues on the Senate Appropriations Committee to provide NIAID with emergency funding to support your efforts in accelerating the development of screening, treatment and prevention technologies. Thank you for looking into this urgent issue. We look forward to hearing from you.

 

Sincerely,

 

Kirsten Gillibrand

United States Senator

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