Zika Virus Is Moving Fast, but Congress Isn't


Zika virus, which the World Health Organization has called a public health emergency of international concern," continues to move toward the United States, with alarming developments along the way.

Zika virus, which the World Health Organization has called a “public health emergency of international concern,” continues to move toward the United States, with alarming developments along the way:

  • The CDC has confirmed sexual transmission of the virus, and it is more common than expected.
  • The effect on fetal brain development seems to be more serious than first thought.
  • The geographic range of the mosquitoes that transmit Zika far exceeds initial estimations. (For more on this, see “Zika Virus Outbreak May Spread to More US States” on page 24 in this issue.)

In February, the White House asked Congress for $1.9 billion in emergency funding to combat Zika virus by supporting mosquito control, disease detection and testing, vaccine development, and support for maternal women’s health. Congress sat on this request for 3 months while the Zika virus became poised to infect residents of red and blue districts alike. Eventually, the Senate passed a compromise $1.1 billion measure. In the meantime, the White House had reprogrammed nearly $600 million of existing funds, earmarked for addressing Ebola, to help support the Zika response.

Instead of waiting on government to protect us, Americans should proactively prepare for the Zika virus, especially by getting educated. Fortunately, pharmacies and pharmacists are in a pivotal position to make a difference. Denise J. Jamieson, MD, medical officer in the CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health, previously told Pharmacy Times that pharmacists can help manage the Zika virus by helping patients recognize symptoms after traveling. They can also recommend that patients seek medical care, especially by their obstetric providers, if they are pregnant.

“Many travelers visit their pharmacy before trips abroad to fill prescriptions, get immunized, or buy other OTC medications,” Dr. Jamieson said. “That visit to the pharmacy could provide a great opportunity for patient education about Zika virus transmission.”

In addition, pharmacists should advise their patients to follow CDC recommendations by (1) throwing away water-holding containers, and cleaning items such as bird baths and pet dishes, on a weekly basis, (2) wearing long-sleeved clothing, socks, and shoes when outdoors, and (3) applying a bug repellent on exposed skin.

If we experience a Zika virus outbreak, pharmacists are likely to become a go-to resource for information. The government, on the other hand, is likely to be overwhelmed and ineffective, based on its track record during previous crises. In the meantime, let’s all get educated and otherwise prepared for what could be an interesting summer.

Thank you for reading!

Mike Hennessy

Chairman and CEO

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