Weekly Columns

Newspaper headlines across the country reflect the rapid spread of the Zika virus in the United States. Arkansans and all Americans are understandably worried about Zika, the danger that it poses to our health and our ability to combat this virus.

Zika was first discovered in 1947, and until recently was not taken seriously as outbreaks were small and sporadic with little known adverse effects. What was once a disease confined along the equator has quickly become a global health threat that has been determined to cause birth defects including microcephaly, a neurological condition which results in a child being born with an abnormally small head.

In February, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika a public health emergency of international concern. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) activated its Emergency Operations Center to its highest level to respond to the outbreak.

It’s a growing cause for concern nationally. In mid-August, CDC reported 2,245 cases of Zika in all 50 states. As of this writing that includes 12 cases in Arkansas due to travel to countries and territories struggling to contain the virus. 

The health and safety of the American people is my top priority. That’s why earlier this summer I met with CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden to ensure U.S. preparedness to fight Zika.

Frieden sounded the alarm on the need to stop the spread of Zika and requested funding for the CDC in order to develop the strongest response to what has the potential to be a very serious health epidemic. It's vital that we understand more about the mosquito that carries the Zika virus so we can stop it in its tracks and develop faster and better diagnostic tests for those who may have been infected. It’s crucial that we provide CDC and the National Institute of Health the resources they need to create prevention methods to keep us safe. 

We must take action to combat Zika. That’s why I voted in favor of bipartisan legislation to provide emergency funding to finance Zika vaccine development and increase mosquito spraying and eradication. I’ve supported funding every step of the way, but Senate Democrats are standing in the way of efforts to fight this public health threat by blocking compromise legislation.

Senate Democrats played politics with this bill, putting Americans at risk. Now it has been confirmed that Zika has spread by mosquito transmission in a neighborhood in Miami. CDC even issued a travel warning urging pregnant women to avoid this area.

This is a serious health concern that deserves immediate attention. It’s a battle we can win, but in order to do so, we need to dedicate resources to the fight. We will have another opportunity in September to show the American people we are committed to stopping Zika. I hope all of my Senate colleagues will vote in support of funding to combat this dangerous virus.