ORLANDO, FLORIDA — Summer means mosquitoes. But this year, mosquitoes are more than a mere nuisance. They have the potential to carry with them the threat of the Zika virus, which has already spread with devastating effect throughout much of the Americas.
It is likely a matter of time before someone in the continental United States contracts Zika from the bite of a mosquito. This has already happened many times in American territories, most notably in Puerto Rico, where Zika just tragically claimed its first American life.
Everything new we learn about Zika underscores the threat it poses. We’ve learned it can be transmitted sexually in addition to by mosquitoes. We’ve learned it is linked to a tragic disease called Guillain-Barre syndrome. We’ve learned unborn children can suffer lasting damage when infected, even after the first trimester.
Furthermore, we increasingly have reason to believe that the virus will be difficult to combat. Some mosquitoes capable of spreading Zika have proved to be resistant to pesticides. And while there is hope a vaccine may be developed, it will likely require increased public funding for basic research to hasten the process.
For these reasons and more, the federal government must act immediately to combat the Zika virus before it becomes a major public health crisis. President Barack Obama has requested $1.9 billion in funding to help confront the problem. I support that request, as I believe it is crucial to stopping the spread of the virus.
Congress cannot afford to delay the process of securing funding. Washington will have to fund the fight against Zika sooner or later. It’s a matter of when, not if. We must act now, before this threat spirals into a national crisis, or else Zika will become much costlier and more difficult to stop. In national policy, just as in medicine, no problem becomes easier to solve the longer you wait.
It is important to understand this is not a political issue. There is no such thing as a Republican or a Democratic position on Zika. Protecting our people from disease is an appropriate function of the federal government, and those of us elected to public service have a responsibility to handle this with urgency. Those not comfortable with the president’s funding request should offer a plan of their own.
This is a real and imminent threat to the public health of our nation. Southern states are a transit point for all of Latin America. With the Summer Olympics to take place in Brazil, the nation hardest hit by this virus, the flow of people through our states who have been potentially exposed will only increase in the coming months.
This is why, in addition to swift action from our government, citizens must remain vigilant and protect themselves as best as possible. It’s important to use mosquito repellent and do our best to prevent puddles or pools of stagnant water, in which mosquitoes tend to breed, from forming near our homes.
Further, it’s important for those who travel to areas heavily impacted by Zika to remain vigilant. If anyone thinks he or she is experiencing symptoms related to the virus, I encourage that person to be tested. This applies not just to pregnant women but to everyone, because we can all be carriers.
Fortunately, the first commercially available test for the Zika virus has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and will soon be made widely available.
For now, the threat of Zika is not going anywhere. In fact, there is ample reason to believe it has only just begun. The time for Congress to act is now. I urge the entire House and Senate to give this threat the attention it deserves.
The responsibility to act also lies with all of us as Americans. We must work together to keep our families safe. If all of us do our part, this summer will not have to be remembered as the Summer of Zika.
Rubio is the junior U.S. senator from Florida. He wrote this for the Orlando Sentinel.
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