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Environment & Science

Sen. Schumer Urges Colleagues to Approve Emergency Funding to Combat Zika

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Scott Willis
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WAER News

A confirmed case of the Zika Virus in Oneida County has prompted Senator Chuck Schumer to urge his congressional colleagues to approve nearly two billion dollars in emergency funding to fight the epidemic.  He made his plea Wednesday at SUNY  Upstate, which has already done significant work with mosquito-borne illnesses.

Many might already know the Zika Virus causes mild flu-like symptoms in most people, serious birth defects in the babies of infected women, and more recently, that it can be transmitted sexually.  But Schumer says researchers at upstate are trying to figure out what we don’t know.

"If a man has Zika, we don't know how long after he gets over the symptoms that he's still liable to transmit the virus through sexual contact," Schumer said.  "Nor do we know the exact amount of time to tell a woman not to get pregnant if she's had Zika.  So there are  lots of questions that we don't know the answers to, but with some money and some research, we can answer all these questions, figure out ways to prevent the virus from spreading."

But doctors say Zika is proving complicated and unpredictable.  Chief of Upstate’s Infections Disease Division Dr. Timothy Endy says they’re looking into the death of a 70-year-old man in Puerto Rico from Zika.

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Credit Scott Willis / WAER News
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WAER News
Dr. Joseph Domachowske addresses the media as Sen. Schumer looks on.

"This virus is changing its equation constantly," Endy said.  The number of birth defects associated with this virus was unanticipated.  It's very unlike and very different from it's family of viruses, so it's acting quite differently.  And the death of the older gentlemen suggests that may be now hemmorhagic, and that also is very concerning."

The emergency funding would also accelerate efforts to developing a vaccine.  Dr. Joseph Domachowske says they’re getting close.

"It appears that as early as this fall, we'll be able to start phase one trials," Domachowske said.  "If things go as we  would expect, they don't always do, there may be a true candidate vaccine as early as first quarter 2017 to begin looking at clinical vaccine trials."

The funding would also provide for mosquito control programs across the country.  Senator Schumer says they’ve set a deadline of the end of the month to have the emergency appropriation on the president’s desk.  But it’s stuck in the senate, and the house has not acted.  He says the U.S. was slow to respond to the Ebola outbreak, and doesn’t want to repeat the same mistake.

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Credit Scott Willis / WAER News
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WAER News
From left to right, Medical School Dean Dr. David Duggan, Dr. Joseph Domachowske, Dr. Timothy Endy, Dr. Sriram Narsipur, and Dr. David Amberg.

 "We don't want to be in a situation where people say why didn't they do something down there in Washington," Schumer said.  "These folks are the front lines.  All they need is a few dollars and they can do some real good for all of us."