CDC Dropping the Ball on Zika

If you’re pregnant or planning to be, rethink your vacation plans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning against travel to Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and 22 countries in Latin America where mosquitoes are carrying the Zika virus and infecting people they bite.

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The biggest danger is to pregnant women, whose babies are at risk of being born with abnormally small and damaged brains. Already, nearly 4,000 Brazilian newborns are affected. Brazil, Jamaica, Colombia and El Salvador are urging women to delay getting pregnant for up to two years. Countries affected are being urged to lift their abortion bans.

Zika is also linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome, which causes paralysis and nerve damage in men and women. And there’s even a concern that a person infected with Zika can transmit it sexually.

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For now anyway, Americans have only a small worry — contracting Zika from a mosquito bite while traveling. But the World Health Organization warned on Sunday that mosquito-borne Zika will soon spread to all countries in the western hemisphere except Canada and Chile.

Unbelievably, the CDC says it has no intention of helping communities in the U.S. eradicate mosquitoes, even though it’s helping other countries across the globe fight mosquito-borne diseases.

Florida, Texas and Southern California have mosquitoes that can spread Zika year-round, scientists report in the medical journal Lancet. The Midwest and East coast are at risk in the spring and summer, says the report. They are “conducive to seasonal Zika virus transmission.” In the East, mosquito season begins in April, which is just around the corner.

CDC’s Lyle Petersen, director of vector-borne diseases, predicts Zika will hit the U.S., but “we don’t expect very large outbreaks.” How many cases are acceptable to the CDC? For a family, the answer is zero.

Having a baby with an abnormally small, damaged brain is a lifelong heartbreak. And even children born with normal-size heads may have hidden brain damage that appears later, says Marcie Treadwell, a fetal medicine physician at the University of Michigan. There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika, and no way to halt the birth defects short of abortion.

“We really need to up our game,” says Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, who concedes vaccines and treatments could take years to develop.

Meanwhile, the CDC’s approach — travel warnings and advising pregnant women to wear long sleeves and pants — falls way short. The agency should be helping local health departments prepare aggressive campaigns to eradicate mosquitoes. But the agency flatly refuses, stating the CDC “is not involved in state or local level mosquito control programs.” So why does the CDC spend millions of dollars in foreign countries to fight mosquito-borne illnesses?

The CDC is suffering from its own ailment — mission confusion. That explains how it bungled Ebola and even failed the straightforward task of keeping the nation’s medical stockpiles up-to-date. The agency is more concerned about dictating what Americans eat and drink — fighting harder against sugary sodas than deadly diseases and hospital infections.

Cities and states need to ramp up their mosquito-eradication capabilities for a possible Zika threat. The mosquito species causing the outbreak in Brazil doesn’t live in most parts of the U.S., but WHO reports that the species found here are also capable of spreading Zika. With such uncertainty, let’s choose caution over complacency.

Scientists are trying to stop Zika by destroying the main type of mosquito that carries it. They’ve genetically engineered a male mosquito whose offspring automatically die. But environmentalists are whining about eradicating a species. Good grief! There will still be more than 3,000 mosquito species left. Given a choice between bugs and human babies, the priority is obvious.

Mosquitoes are to blame for more than half the deaths in human history. The U. S. nearly eradicated the most dangerous species here half a century ago, but they’re back and we’re compelled to wage the war again — and win.

Betsy McCaughey is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and author of “Government by Choice: Inventing the United States Constitution.”

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