EDISON, NJ – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez today delivered an impassioned plea—not just as a member of Congress, but as a concerned father—for Republican leaders to immediately call an emergency session of Congress to approve federal funding to respond to the growing Zika public health crisis. The senator’s daughter is five months pregnant with his first grandchild and lives in Miami, ground zero for the virus in the continental United States and where the first confirmed homegrown cases of Zika cases of locally-acquired transmission occurred and is threatening to spread.
“The concern and fear gripping American families is real and, as a father and soon-to-be-grandfather, I get it,” said Sen. Menendez. “I am deeply concerned for my daughter’s health, her well-being, and the well-being of my first grandchild. The fear is palpable and cannot be ignored, not by me, not by any father, not by any grandfather; and it should not be ignored by Republicans in Congress. At the end of the day, lives are at stake and we must do all we can to protect every American.”
Sen. Menendez stood at the banks of a retention pond near Dismal Swamp in Edison that was stocked with larvae-eating fish to keep mosquitoes at bay. Middlesex County mosquito control experts discussed other safe and effective efforts they’ve undertaken, including adulticide spraying and dunking ecologically-safe tablets into standing water to destroy larvae before they hatch.
“Zika is a new disease with many unknowns,” Deepak Matadha, PhD, Middlesex County Mosquito Extermination Commission superintendent. “The extra funding will address the need for building a robust and sustainable surveillance system and enhance our Mosquito Commission’s control capacity to keep any Zika outbreak to a minimum. The Commission and residents are dealing with a mosquito vector species (Asian tiger mosquito) that is difficult to control and manage as it breeds in a wide range of man-made containers that hold water for more than seven days.”
Dr. Matadha urged residents to eliminate or manage all sources of standing water to discourage mosquito breeding; wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants to reduce the risk of Zika by mosquito bites; stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside; use EPA registered insect repellents, according to label.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued travel advisories for those headed to Miami, and is warning that Zika could soon reach New Jersey and spread across the country. Zika is primarily carried by two species of mosquito, including the Asian tiger mosquito present in New Jersey, but can also be transmitted sexually.
More than 7,300 Americans, according to the CDC, have been infected with the Zika virus, more than 970 pregnant American women show signs of infection, and 15 American children have been born with birth defects caused by the virus, including a newborn who died this week in Texas. There are 50 confirmed cases—none locally-transmitted—in New Jersey.
Healthy adults who contract the virus are often asymptomatic, but pregnant mothers and their unborn children are at highest risk. Zika has been linked to microcephaly in newborns, a rare condition in which the child is born with a significantly smaller head, which can lead to blindness, hearing loss, the inability to swallow or move, seizures, intellectual disabilities and developmental delays. A pregnant woman visiting New Jersey from Honduras in May gave birth to a baby girl with microcephaly at Hackensack University Medical Center.
Last week, Sen. Menendez joined Senate Democrats, including Cory Booker, in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan urging the Republican leaders to immediately call Congress back into session to pass emergency funding legislation to address the growing Zika crisis.
President Obama first requested emergency funding to fight Zika 170 days ago, longer than the combined 137 days it took Congress to fund the fight against the last three public health emergencies: Ebola, H1N1 and Avian flu. Republican leaders adjourned the Congress for its summer recess without passing Zika legislation.
The Senate overwhelmingly approved a $1.1 billion bipartisan compromise funding bill, but it was blocked by House Republicans who insisted on adding a “poison pill” amendment to a clean bill that would have prohibited Planned Parenthood and other family planning clinics from receiving Zika funds, despite the CDC, World Health Organization, and American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommending that the best course of action to decrease transmission of the virus is to increase access to contraception and family planning services.
Federal funding would advance development of a Zika vaccine, as well as provide state and local governments with resources necessary to continue both preventative mosquito control efforts, and respond to a health emergencies.
Also attending the news conference were Middlesex County Freeholders Ronald Rios and Charles Kenney, and Edison Health Director Jay Elliot.
October 29, 2020