U.S. lawmakers recently held a hearing to examine whether the United States government appropriately responded to the Zika outbreak in many parts of the country and in Central and South America.
In a hearing of a House Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittee, several lawmakers heard what science chiefs across the federal government had to say about the continued efforts to mitigate and prevent an outbreak episode from reaching crisis levels.
“Since Zika virus disease was a newly emerging disease threat in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the states were not fully equipped with needed information and resources at the beginning of the outbreak,” Dr. Timothy Persons, chief scientist for the Government Accountability Office, said in his statement.
Persons further elaborated on how agencies, vaccine manufacturers and other entities involved in investigating the epidemiology of the virus lacked sufficient chains of communication. Other areas criticized included the control methods to limit mosquitoes, the virus’s main method of transmission, and how federal agencies are “challenged in assisting these efforts.”
Individual agencies echoed differing sentiments on the response while focusing on specific challenges and efforts.
“One of FDA’s first actions in response to the Zika virus outbreak was to take important steps to help protect the safety of the blood supply,” Dr. Luciana Borio, the acting science chief of the Food and Drug Administration, said in written testimony. “FDA issued guidance in February 2016 that recommended the deferral of individuals from donating blood if they had been to areas with active Zika virus transmission, were potentially exposed to the virus, or had a confirmed infection.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a center of the National Institutes of Health, told the subcommittee that dealing with a virus like Zika is a series of “perpetual challenges.”
“As part of its mission to respond rapidly to emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases globally, NIAID is elucidating the biology of Zika virus and developing tools to diagnose, treat, and prevent disease caused by this virus,” Fauci said. “As a high priority, NIAID will continue to pursue the development of safe and effective vaccines and therapeutics against Zika virus.”
The Zika virus was widespread during its 2015-16 epidemic, and as the mosquito season for many regions of the U.S. is about to begin, the concern of the risk has risen once again.
According to the CDC, areas in the U.S. that are the most prone to infection include parts of southern Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico.