Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Zika, once again

"Yes, the common mosquito can also spread disease in North America. How can an insect this so cause problems so huge?"

The Zika Virus has sure become a world player. Like overnight it seems. And some might think that little is known about this virus. In fact, some of the global warming cheerleaders are blaming the Zika outbreak on "man-made climate change". So let's get some facts out on the table.

First off, the Zika Virus was discovered in 1947. It is named from winch it came - the Zika forest in Uganda. Some say it left humans alone for the decades since discovery. Others say different - that is has affected humans, but was misdiagnosed for years as Dengue Fever.

So before we go any further, let's discuss Dengue Fever. For many of us living in the North America, Dengue is an unfamiliar term. However, to live in the tropics or subtropics, it is a real problem. Like Zika, it is spread mostly through the bite of a mosquito. The symptoms of Dengue and Zika are very similar at the beginning, although Dengue is more serious. And potentially fatal. In fact, every year 400 million people are infected with the Dengue Virus.

The Zika Virus is an arbovirus like Dengue. It can make one sick and feeling pretty lousy for days and sometimes over a week once the infection sets in. But unlike Dengue, it has not proven to be fatal. The big threat is an assumed connection between the Zika Virus and a disease known as microcephaly - babies born with abnormally small heads and brains. And even though Zika is spreading, and has the WHO and CDC concerned, the number of cases reported worldwide reported is 3 to 4 million. That is a small fraction compared to how many people are infected by Dengue.

I can't leave this topic without going into some of the associated politics. Yesterday, our President asked Congress for $1.8B to fund prevention and find a vaccine for Zika. The CDC has declared Zika now to be a "Level One" emergency. Other "Level One" emergencies we have had in the recent past have been Ebola in 2014, the H1N1 outbreak in 2009, and of course Katrina in 2005.

A few questions about this amount of money. First - where is it coming from? Where is the offset going to be? Or are we just going to pile this onto our debt. Second - with Zika being a small player compared to Dengue, why is Dengue not also considered a "Level One" problem? Obama wants to send about $400 Million of the $1.8 Billion to Central and South America to fight mosquitoes. Don't these countries already have some kind of mosquito control? After all, Dengue and Malaria are big problems in many of the same countries. 

And what about the West Nile Virus which has killed 1,700 people since being discovered in this country in 1999? We only spend a few million on that every year.  

Not to sound harsh or callous, but I will be interested to see how Congress reacts to this request. It is going to be a real test for Speaker Ryan. For some, the battle will be to fight yet another virus which seems to have come from nowhere. For others, the battle is a continuous one to rein in out of control spending. 

Finally, if we should authorize $1.8 Billion, are we going to a follow on audit to see how it was spent? Are we going to find out if we got any bang for our buck? Did it make any difference at all?

It seems we NEVER ask these questions once we spend money we don't have. And if we do spend this money, this $1.8B might be a good place to start.     

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