The Big Cities Health Coalition (BCHC) today called on Congress to pass the President’s $1.8 billion emergency funding request designed to prepare for and respond to the Zika virus. The Coalition membership consists of the 28 largest public health departments in the United States, representing 1 in 6 Americans. Many of these local health departments are engaged in educating the public and health care providers about Zika, conducting prevention activities through mosquito eradication, and screening travelers from countries where the outbreak has surfaced.

“Our nation’s big cities have confirmed cases of the Zika virus. Their health departments are charged with preparing for and containing this outbreak,” said Chrissie Juliano, MPP, Director of BCHC. “Congress must ensure that emergency dollars reach cities quickly because that is where the action will be taken to prevent and respond to this mosquito-borne virus. But we urge Congress to go beyond that. Putting out fires with emergency funding is neither a sound nor effective strategy. It’s time to put sustained funding in place to strengthen our public health system so that our nation is prepared for whatever comes next.”

Emerging infectious disease threats like Zika require ongoing vigilance, but the particular risks from this virus require immediate, additional investments. BCHC urges Congress to act quickly on the President’s requested $1.8 billion in emergency funding – $1.48 billion of which would be provided to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This funding includes $828 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) surveillance activities, and $200 million for vaccine research and diagnostic development and procurement. With this funding, state and local health departments would be able to immediately increase their virus readiness and response capacity, particularly in areas with ongoing Zika transmission; enhance laboratory, epidemiology and surveillance capacity in at-risk areas to reduce the opportunities for Zika transmission; and stand up their surge capacity through rapid response teams.

Given continued cuts and overall limited investments in public health infrastructure, including vector surveillance and control, supplemental funding for emergent threats like Zika is necessary. But, it is just as important for Congress to sufficiently fund the core infectious disease (CID) program at CDC to help avert these situations in the future. CDC’s CID includes the vector-borne diseases program that provides resources to state and local health departments to detect, control, and prevent bacteria and viruses transmitted by mosquitoes.

Although not a new virus, 2015 marked the first widespread transmission of the Zika virus in the Americas. The virus is spread primarily by mosquitoes and usually causes only mild illness or no symptoms, but it may be causing a steep increase in birth defects in infants born to mothers who were infected during pregnancy. In January 2016, the CDC warned women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant to avoid travel to regions and countries with widespread Zika transmission or to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes there. The World Health Organization has recently declared a public health emergency of international concern due to the spike in microcephaly (babies born with smaller heads than expected) and Guillain-Barré syndrome in the Americas. The same mosquito also spreads dengue and chikungunya.