CDC scientists on Wednesday said they have determined that the Zika virus causes microcephaly and other severe brain defects in fetuses.
While researchers had strongly suspected the virus might cause infants to be born with microcephaly— a neurological disorder that is characterized by an abnormally small head and potentially fatal developmental issues—new CDC research published in the New England Journal of Medicine provides more conclusive evidence of a causal relationship.
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Specifically, researchers said traces of the Zika virus had been found in the amniotic fluid, brain tissue, and spinal fluid of babies born with microcephaly. CDC said that while Zika increases the likelihood of a fetus developing microcephaly, not all Zika-infected fetuses will develop the condition.
"There is no longer any doubt that Zika causes microcephaly," says CDC director Tom Frieden.
The finding represents "an unprecedented association" in medicine, says CDC director Tom Frieden. "Never before in history has there been a situation where a bite from a mosquito can result in a devastating malformation."
The new research "marks a turning point in the Zika outbreak," Frieden says.
Frieden says CDC will begin further research to determine whether Zika causes other fetal brain issues.
CDC officials say the agency's guidance on preventing Zika transmission, including guidelines on travel and preventing sexual transmission of Zika, will remain the same.
However, Sonja Rasmussen, director of CDC's division of public health information, says the agency's "messages" on Zika "will now be more direct." According to the Los Angeles Times' "Science Now," CDC hopes its new messaging about the virus will further encourage U.S. residents to take precautions against Zika.
GOP leaders say House is working on Zika funding
In related news, House Appropriations Committee Chair Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) on Wednesday said Republican leaders in the House are working on legislation that would approve additional funding for federal Zika response efforts.
The Obama administration in February requested from Congress $1.9 billion for Zika-related initiatives, but the House has yet to act on the request. A senior administration official last week said the administration would transfer some funds intended to combat the Ebola virus to Zika initiatives.
Rogers said his staff is working on a supplemental funding bill that would appropriate funds for Zika response, but that he is waiting on the administration to detail "precisely what amount they need and for what purpose." He added, "We can't do it without the numbers."
Rogers said he would back immediate action on the supplemental funding bill when it is ready. However, he noted that the bill might not include the same amount of funding the administration requests.
Separately, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) on Wednesday indicated that Congress could approve Zika response funding soon. He noted, "We do need to do something in the foreseeable future, I would think before the end of the fiscal year." The current fiscal year ends Oct. 1.
Cole said he has talked with Republican leaders in the House and federal officials about a supplemental spending package.
In addition, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (R-Mich.) on Wednesday said, "We all know [Zika funding] needs to be addressed." Upton indicated that he has met with HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell on the issue numerous time.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Wednesday said the House "will address this situation through the regular appropriations process as the need arises, and our appropriators are looking at how to do just that."
Congress approves bill to add Zika to FDA's priority review voucher program
In other related news, the House on Tuesday by voice vote approved a bill that would add the Zika virus to a list of tropical diseases included in FDA's priority review voucher program.
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The program was created by Congress in 2007 and provides a voucher to companies that make drugs to treat certain tropical diseases or rare illnesses that affect children. The owner of a voucher can either redeem it for FDA to expedite the review process for one of its other drugs or sell the voucher to another company, as often occurs.
The Senate already has approved the measure. President Obama is expected to sign the bill.
Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.), who co-authored the measure, said the bill would create "a significant incentive for private industry to invest the hundreds of millions of dollars and the many man hours it takes to produce a vaccine or treatment" for Zika .
Katie Hill, a White House spokesperson, called the bill a "small step" that could help encourage the private sector to address Zika. However, Hill in a statement noted that the bill "contains no funding and is ultimately insufficient on its own" ("Science Now," AP/Los Angeles Times, 4/13; Sullivan, The Hill, 4/13; Steenhuysen/Berkrot, Reuters, 4/13; Ferris, The Hill, 4/13; AP/Modern Healthcare, 4/13; Ferris, The Hill, 4/12; Clarke/Morgan, Reuters, 4/12; Belluck/McNeil, New York Times, 4/13).
From Zika virus to avian flu: How can hospitals prepare for public health disasters?
Hospitals must be prepared for myriad disasters that can stress health care systems to the breaking point and disrupt delivery of vital health care services.
The Advisory Board has compiled step-by-step procedures for various threats your facility may encounter—though we hope you'll never need to use them.
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