By Dennis Thompson
The Zika virus will strike the continental United States again this summer, and looming federal budget cuts will make it hard for local officials to curb its spread, public health experts said Wednesday.
The experts believe it's a foregone conclusion that more local Zika outbreaks will occur on the U.S. mainland in the coming months, much like what happened in Miami and Brownsville, Texas, last summer.
"We can virtually guarantee there will be activity, particularly along the Gulf region," said Michael Osterholm. He directs the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.
Local health departments will shoulder the burden of any response to a local Zika outbreak, infection control experts said during a media briefing hosted by the National Association of County & City Health Officials (NACCHO).
Funding authorized by Congress last year to combat Zika is about to run out, and the budget proposed by President Donald Trump would make drastic cuts in future public health funding, said Dr. Oscar Alleyne, NACCHO's senior advisor for public health programs.
"We cannot wait until there's a fire to go out and buy a fire truck," Alleyne said, urging federal leaders to provide more funding for a Zika response.
Zika is mainly transmitted by mosquitoes that bite an infected person and then pass the virus to other people through subsequent bites.
The U.S. mainland has had 5,300 cases of Zika as of May 24. But most of those involved people infected during travel to other countries and territories, primarily in Latin America and the Caribbean, said NACCHO President Claude Jacob. He is chief public health officer for the Cambridge Public Health Department in Massachusetts.
Only 224 Zika infections in the continental U.S. have occurred due to local transmission via mosquito, Jacob said.
Pregnant women are at greatest risk from Zika, since the virus is known to cause birth defects such as microcephaly, in which a baby's head and brain are underdeveloped.
About 10 percent of 250 women with confirmed Zika infection in 2016 had a fetus or baby with Zika-related birth defects, Jacob said.