Some public health crises capture our attention more than others. A few years back, the phones were ringing off the hook on Capitol Hill about Ebola. But not so for the Zika virus, we are hearing from Congressional offices. Is this because we think that Zika will only affect women who are pregnant? Or just those who live in southern states? Are we not understanding that this virus could potentially quickly spread in local communities or that people in the south who are at greatest risk right now travel to other parts of the country?
Such a false sense of immunity could cost us dearly. Studies are rolling in and, taken together, are painting an alarming picture. According to a study released last week, two million pregnant women in the U.S. could contract the virus by November while another study finds that 29% of Zika-infected women gave birth to babies with adverse outcomes, including stillbirth, microcephaly, and other serious health problems. Another found that microcephaly alone occurs in up to 13% of babies born to their mothers who became infected during their first trimester. And this is only what we do know. Still unknown are, among other things, the long-term effects of Zika on adults and children who contract the virus after birth. “We still don’t know yet the full rainbow of complications that this virus may produce,” according to the director of communicable diseases for the Pan-American Health Organization.
If we don’t act now, the implications could be dramatic in both the short and long term. For instance, the travel industry could be decimated in the southern coastal states this summer as infection rates and corresponding fear rise. Further down the road, state Medicaid programs could see a surge in demand for services for not just people with microcephaly, but those with the still unknown other disabilities that may be significant and lifelong.
Congress left for its Memorial Day recess before having finalized an emergency spending bill for Zika prevention. When it reconvenes this week, it is imperative that Members hear from their constituents who understand that that Zika prevention is truly a national and urgent priority. Stay up to date on this issue and many others impacting people with disabilities by signing up for our Disability Advocacy Network. Be in-the-know and take action when needed!