Sunday 18 February 2018

Zika will infect people within US in weeks, warns disease expert

Zika warning at Miami international airport
Zika warning at Miami international airport

Harriet Alexander in New York

Zika will be infecting people within the United States in the next few weeks, the country's top disease expert has warned.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that the US should be doing more to prepare for the onslaught.

More than 500 people in the country have contracted the virus, but they have all travelled to Latin America - the epicentre of the outbreak.

"We already have Zika in the United States. But it is travel related," said Dr Fauci, speaking in a television interview on Sunday.

"The concern is that we will have local transmission; in other words, people who get infected in the United States, get bitten by a mosquito, but who have never left the continental United States.

"We fully expect that that will happen as we get to the more robust mosquito season in the next month or so."

It comes as Zika is now a notifiable disease in Ireland.

Health Minister Simon Harris signed the Infectious Diseases (Amendment) Regulation, 2016, yesterday, meaning doctors will have to notify health authorities of any confirmed cases of the virus. Health authorities will then investigate cases and work to prevent its spread.

There have been a number of confirmed Zika cases in Ireland, but these have been in people who have travelled to Zika infected countries.

In the US, Dr Fauci said that the disease's arrival there was inevitable, so the priority should be in limiting mosquito breeding grounds and installing screens in homes.

"We need to make sure that those local outbreaks don't become sustained and don't become disseminated," he said.

"That's the reason why we need to have a very, very forceful preparation right now before that happens."

Zika is transmitted via mosquitoes and, it is now known, sexual contact.

While most people develop a fever which passes quickly, pregnant women have given birth to babies suffering from severe brain damage. In some cases, adults have also become paralysed from the virus.

The Centre for Disease Control says there are currently 157 pregnant women in the US who have been diagnosed with Zika.

On Thursday, the Senate passed a $1.1bn (€1bn) plan to combat Zika and scientists in the US are working on a vaccine, which is the main use of the government funding.

"We're right now very aggressively developing the vaccine," said Dr Fauci.

But Republicans are arguing against the funding, with some politicians saying they will only back the plan if the government accepts cuts to Obamacare. The Republican party has not agreed to the $1.9bn (€1.7bn) that healthcare experts have told US President Barack Obama is necessary, and instead is suggesting a separate $622m (€554m) proposal, which uses previously allocated funds to combat the spread of Ebola. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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