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Federal officials repay states for Zika funds borrowed this year

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are responsible for transmitting dengue

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are responsible for transmitting dengue and Zika. Jan. 27, 2016. Photo Credit: AP / Felipe Dana

Millions of dollars was repaid to states and U.S. territories Tuesday that was borrowed earlier this year in an emergency move to combat the Zika virus, but states will have to apply for additional funds if they want to fight mosquitoes and monitor pregnant women.

Federal health officials said Tuesday the groundwork has been laid for an effective response against Zika — and any other mosquito-borne infection that may suddenly appear in the future.

“The administration has moved heaven and earth to be able to respond to the virus,” said Kevin Griffis, an assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

But as the infection was sweeping across Latin America and the Caribbean earlier this year, U.S. health officials were scrambling to scrape together enough money to begin an initial Zika response. Griffis said $44.25 million was taken from state emergency-preparedness funds to quickly address Zika.

That money was repaid Tuesday as part of the first big distribution of money from the $1.1 billion approved by Congress in September after months of partisan wrangling over whether money should even be allocated to the new threat.

“In April, we reprogrammed Ebola money to respond to Zika, but we also transferred money from the Public Health Emergency Preparedness grant program,” Griffis said. “The $44.25 million announced today represents a replenishment of that transferred money.”

New York State is receiving $1.5 million and New York City $1.1 million in replenished funds. Like other states, New York can apply for additional money to develop stepped-up mosquito-surveillance efforts, bolster programs for pregnant women infected with the virus and fund other types of Zika research.

Money for those programs probably won’t be available until next year, Griffis and other federal health officials said during a telephone news briefing Tuesday.

“There’s a process for applying for it,” Dr. Stephen Redd, director of public health preparedness and response at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said of federal Zika funding. His agency will receive more than $300 million of the $1.1 billion and the National Institutes of Health get about $152 million, officials said.

Zika virus is a key public health concern in New York, even though mosquitoes have not yet spread the pathogen here. New York has tallied the second-highest number of infections nationwide — 838 — since the beginning of the year. All are travel-related cases, according to the state health department.

Nassau and Suffolk counties are the only two jurisdictions outside New York City that have had confirmed Zika infections this month: Two cases have been confirmed in Nassau and one in Suffolk. New York City has had two in October, state figures show. In all, Nassau has had 49 confirmed Zika infections; Suffolk, 51 and New York City, 620.

The infection poses a serious threat during the first trimester of pregnancy, when the virus can adversely affect the fetal brain, scientists say.

Health officials estimate 93 pregnant women have been monitored in the state and at least one woman has given birth to a baby with microcephaly, a severe birth defect characterized by small head and brain size and mental retardation. The case was reported by New York City health officials in July.

A state health department spokeswoman on Tuesday would not say whether additional Zika-related birth defects have been recorded.

Florida is the only state that has reported more Zika-related infections, and the only state to date where mosquitoes are transmitting the infection. State health officials have recorded 1,031 confirmed cases. Among them, 847 are travel-related and 179 have been caused by mosquitoes. Officials say 103 pregnant women have been infected. The virus also can be transmitted sexually, experts say.


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