The Zika Virus is Here. Meet the Federal Scientists Racing to Stop It

Categories: HHS

A new mosquito-borne virus called Zika is spreading from Latin America and the Caribbean to the U.S. 

In Brazil alone, thousands of babies were born last year with small heads due to undeveloped brains, a condition known as microcephaly. But the concern is not just for babies. In adults, Zika’s most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. But it has also been linked in Brazil to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes paralysis. 

The Brazilian government has sent more than 200,000 troops to eradicate the mosquitoes, and its health minister said they are losing the battle. The country is hosting the Olympics this summer, an event which some suggest could accelerate the spread of the virus across the globe. 

The virus  has now spread to at least 24 countries, and cases were recently confirmed in Florida, Illinois, Arkansas, and Virginia. So far, no treatment or vaccine is available. 

But the U.S. federal scientists said they are already on it. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has been developing vaccines for Zika and similar viruses for years, but it will now shift its focus and add additional resources to develop a vaccine for Zika. 

“I’ve made it clear that we want to put a full-court press.” Dr. Anthony Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is part of NIH, said in an interview. “I’m saying, ‘Folks, this is it, all hands on deck for Zika, this is really important.’ We are rapidly pushing.”

The Centers for Diseases Control (CDC) has issued a health advisory to health care providers and held a televised briefing with clinicians nationwide to go over the guidelines. CDC is also warning pregnant women against traveling to areas where there’s an outbreak. Check out CDC’s travel alert updates here.  

The work of NIH and CDC employees helps save lives, and AFGE is proud to be the union that represents these employees. We work hard to make sure NIH and CDC scientists and medical experts have the resources and tools they need to do their jobs.

What Else Are These Federal Scientists Working on?

Zika is just one of the viruses and diseases that federal scientists have been working on to find cure for. CDC scientists and medical experts work 24/7 to respond to outbreaks and emergencies both in the U.S. and abroad. They were on the ground fighting deadly Ebola in Nigeria. They helped investigate the measles outbreak at Disneyland. They led the U.S. public health response during anthrax, SARS, avian influenza outbreaks abroad and during the recent 2009 H1N1 pandemic. 

Right now they are investigating E.coli outbreaks linked to Chipotle restaurants and an outbreak of Listeriosis linked to packaged salads, among other things.

NIH is the largest public funder of biomedical research in the world. Patients rely on NIH research and clinical trials for all kinds of diseases. NIH scientists have been working on a universal flu vaccine that can protect against all influenza viruses. They have been doing studies on Malaria HIV/AIDSCoronaviruses, and others.

Their work saves lives everywhere, every day. Let’s make sure NIH, CDC, and other federal agencies are fully funded so they can help us lead a better, healthier life.

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