14 in Ohio test positive for Zika virus; federal funding month away

Fourteen Ohioans – including one woman from Columbus - have tested positive for the Zika virus, but federal funding aimed at researching and developing a vaccine for the virus is not yet a reality – and could be at least a month away.

President Barack Obama asked for $1.9 billion in emergency federal dollars to fight the virus back in February – money to research, prevent and develop vaccines and drugs to treat the disease. But the House has only allocated $622 million – most money transferred a fund slated for the Ebola virus. And the Senate in late May passed $1.1 billion, which Obama argues is insufficient but which both Ohio senators voted for. Both Houses have yet to come together to iron out the differences in their bills.

Republicans say they are worried about handing Obama a “blank check” which he could use on other emergencies, and they’d prefer the money be offset by cuts to other programs.

Columbus-area Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Genoa Twp., said the Obama administration has already moved $589 million from other sources to pay for research. The House’s $622 million, he said, will bring that level to more than $1 billion.

“The plan is to get the money out the door,” he said, saying the immediate priority is vaccine development. He said that money is paid for through other federal sources. “People tell us they want us to pay for thing, so we paid for it.”

But Obama said that the request was based on public health assessments and documented need to fight the virus before it spreads extensively in the United States. “We didn’t just choose $1.9 billion from the top of our heads,” he said.

Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 618 cases as of June 1 in the continental U.S. and 1,114 in U.S. territories. One-hundred and ninety-five cases in the continental U.S. have affected pregnant women; 146 in U.S. territories have.

The disease is spread primarily through the bite of an infected mosquito, and its most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes. The illness is usually mild, but a Zika infection in a pregnant woman can cause serious birth defects, such as microcephaly – an abnormally small head and brain.

So far, those affected in the U.S. have largely been people who have travelled to countries where the disease is prevalent. But there’s worry that summer could be a key time for the disease to infiltrate the United States.

Earlier this week, a 38-year-old Columbus woman tested positive for the virus after visiting the Dominican Republic. The woman is not pregnant, according to public health officials. She represented Franklin County’s first Zika case. So far, there have been more than 600 cases reported in the continental United States, but mosquitoes here have yet to transmit the virus, according to public health officials.