Mass. gets $200,000 to monitor Zika

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BOSTON >> Amid calls for Congress to act, Massachusetts has been awarded $200,000 to help the state monitor the mosquito-borne Zika virus, and although no locally contracted cases have been identified, state officials say they're monitoring potential threats as confirmed cases emerge elsewhere in the U.S.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention released $16 million this week to 40 states and territories after Congress failed to advance a funding bill aimed at fighting the spread of the virus. The agency said the funds would help "respond to the emerging threat, quickly identify cases of microcephaly and other adverse birth outcomes linked to Zika, and refer infants and families to services."

Congressman Stephen Lynch of South Boston on Tuesday called for Congress to break from its summer recess and act on President Barack Obama's $1.9 billion Zika funding bill filed in February. Lynch called Zika a "growing national security and public health crisis."

The first signs of domestically transmitted Zika virus emerged Monday in Florida where health officials say 14 people were found to be infected. The CDC has warned pregnant women not to travel to a Miami neighborhood where Zika has been actively transmitted.

In an email Thursday morning echoing the call for Congressional action, U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy wrote, "Zika has arrived in the continental United States — and it could be spreading fast. Babies born to women infected by Zika are prone to a debilitating birth defect called microcephaly, which causes lifelong mental and physical disabilities Unfortunately, Republicans are playing politics with this public health crisis. They're using Zika as yet another opportunity to defund Planned Parenthood — and push a far-right anti-choice agenda."

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Tuesday that it was important to get the message out that Florida — anticipating a record 110 million to 115 million visitors this year — remains "a safe state."

"We're going to beat this," Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said, according to News Service of Florida. "We're going to move forward, and Florida is very much going to remain the state that is known for its exceptional outdoor activities and opportunities, and this will be just one of the more interesting chapters written about Florida."

According to the CDC, as of July 27 there were no locally acquired cases of the Zika virus in Massachusetts, and state and federal health officials are monitoring 52 cases where travelers have returned from areas where the virus has been detected.

"Nothing has changed at this time in terms of the assessment of local risk in Massachusetts, although we continue to be vigilant and monitor the situation," a spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Health (DPH) said in a statement, adding that state officials are coordinating efforts with other government officials and emphasizing the importance of people protecting themselves against mosquito bites.

According to the CDC, Zika virus spreads to people primarily through the bite of an infected species of mosquito known as Aedes. Infection can also be spread by infected men and women to their sex partners. There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika, according to the CDC, and many people infected with Zika have no symptoms. Fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis are the complaints among those who do have symptoms.

In a public health fact sheet, the DPH says, "It is extremely unlikely that anyone could become infected with Zika virus from a mosquito bite in Massachusetts. The kinds of mosquitoes that are known to carry Zika virus are generally not found in Massachusetts. However, travelers to affected areas may be bitten by infected mosquitoes during their trip and some of these travelers are being diagnosed with Zika virus disease when they return to the United States."

Sen. Edward Markey planned to tour Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center on Thursday to learn about possible Zika vaccine candidates. Dr. Dan Barouch of Beth Israel Deaconess and scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and the University of Sao Paulo are reporting "complete protection against Zika virus in rhesus monkeys." Their findings come a month after vaccine candidates provided mice with complete protection against the virus.

"Three vaccines provided complete protection against Zika virus in nonhuman primates, which is the best animal model prior to starting clinical trials," said Barouch, senior author and director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at BIDMC, said in a statement. "The consistent and robust protection against Zika virus in both rodents and primates fuels our optimism about the development of a safe and effective Zika vaccine for humans."


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