The CDC is brushing off the Zika virus

By: Betsy McCaughey                                            January 27, 2016

The Zika virus causes horrible birth defects — and it’s coming here. Will US authorities let ideologues stop them from wiping out the mosquito species that carries this horror?

The biggest danger is to pregnant women, whose babies are at risk of being born with abnormally small and damaged brains. Already, nearly 4,000 Brazilian newborns have been affected. Brazil, Jamaica, Colombia and El Salvador are urging women to delay getting pregnant for up to two years, and countries are being encouraged to lift their abortion bans. Zika is also linked to Guillain–Barré syndrome, which causes paralysis and nerve damage in men and women.

For now anyway, Americans have only a small worry — contracting Zika from a mosquito bite while traveling to the Caribbean or Latin America. But the World Health Organization warned on Sunday that mosquito-borne Zika will soon spread to all countries in the western hemisphere except Canada and Chile.

Unbelievably, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it has no intention of helping communities in the United States eradicate mosquitoes, even though it’s immersed in the same fight against mosquito-borne disease in other countries across the globe.

Florida, Texas and southern California have mosquitoes that can spread Zika year-round, according to the medical journal Lancet. The Midwest and East Coast, including New York City, are at risk in the spring and summer, says the report. These areas are now considered “conducive to seasonal Zika virus transmission.” Here mosquito season begins in April, which is just around the corner.

The CDC’s Lyle Petersen, director of the Division of Vector-Borne Diseases, predicts Zika will hit the United States, but says “we don’t expect very large outbreaks.” How many cases are acceptable to the feds? For a family, the answer is zero.

Having a baby with an abnormally small, damaged brain is a lifelong heartbreak. And even children born with normal-size heads may have hidden brain damage that appears later, says Marcie Treadwell, a fetal-medicine physician at the University of Michigan.

There’s no vaccine or treatment for Zika, and no way to halt the birth defects short of abortion.

“We really need to up our game,” says Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who concedes vaccines and treatments could take years to develop.

Meanwhile, the federal government’s approach — travel warnings and advising pregnant women to wear long sleeves and pants — falls way short. The CDC should be helping local health departments prepare aggressive campaigns to eradicate mosquitoes.

But the agency flatly refuses, stating the CDC “is not involved in state or local level mosquito control programs.” So why does it spend millions of dollars in foreign countries to fight mosquito-borne illnesses?

Fortunately, New York City’s health officials are already responding to Zika, educating doctors and nurses about what to watch for. It helps that City Hall has had a mosquito-control program since 1999 to combat West Nile virus, though spraying is done “judiciously” to placate opponents of pesticides. In a typical year, several New Yorkers die of West Nile.

City Hall needs to ramp up its mosquito-eradication capabilities for a possible Zika threat. The mosquito species causing the outbreak in Brazil doesn’t live here, says City Hall. But the World Health Organization reports say the species found here are also capable of spreading Zika. With such uncertainty, let’s choose caution over complacency.

Scientists are trying to stop Zika by destroying the main type of mosquito that carries it. They’ve genetically engineered a male mosquito whose offspring automatically die. But environmentalists are whining about eradicating a species.

Good grief! There will still be more than 3,000 mosquito species left. Given a choice between bugs and human babies, the priority is obvious.

Mosquitoes are to blame for more than half the deaths in human history. The United States nearly eliminated the most dangerous species here half a century ago, but they’re back and we’re compelled to wage the war again — and win.

Betsy McCaughey is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research.