KIPS BAY — Congress should approve $2 billion in federal emergency money to combat the Zika virus because as a global city with many tourists and immigrants from places where the disease is spreading, New York City is particularly vulnerable, Mayor Bill de Blasio and other elected officials said Tuesday.
The mayor and other politicians called on Congressional leadership to pass a $1.9 billion emergency funding bill to fight the spread of the Zika virus, which is transmitted sexually and through mosquitos.
"What we face in New York City is related to what's happening elsewhere in the country and elsewhere in the world," de Blasio said at the Department of Health's laboratories on First Avenue. "We need the federal government to get involved. We have a chance to stop it now."
State Sen. Adriano Espaillat, who is the Democratic nominee for the 13th congressional district in Upper Manhattan, said many people who visit places where the Zika virus is spreading via mosquitos, such as the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Jamaica and the Caribbean, are now returning from summer vacation for the start of school.
"Global is local," said Espaillat. "This is a city of immigrants from throughout the world."
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The city committed $21 million over three years in April to combating, testing and educating the public about Zika. In February, the city performed no Zika tests at its labs. Now it performs 100 per day.
The city has tested 3,400 pregnant women for the virus and 49 have tested positive. One baby so far has been born with microcephaly, a birth defect where newborns have smaller heads than normal. The condition could indicate smaller than normal brains, developmental delays and other brain defects in babies.
"ZIka is a generally mild disease for most people who get it. Eighty percent of people don't ever know they've had the disease," said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett. "The problem is when its transmitted from the mother to her baby. And that's the true victim of Zika, the developing baby."
There is between a 1 and 13 percent chance for babies born to mothers infected with Zika to be affected by the virus, said Bassett. The first trimester is the most dangerous time for a woman to be pregnant and have Zika.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Zika virus is transmitted from the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. Fever, joint pain and rash are the most common symptoms and most infected people rarely die or even get sick enough to go to the hospital for treatment.
The city has identified 420 people in New York City with the Zika virus. All were infected while traveling elsewhere, but mosquito transmitted cases have been reported in Florida.
There is also a concern that although the type of mosquito that transmits Zika is not found in New York, a similar mosquito species, Aedes albopictus, could transmit the virus if it bites someone in the city who was infected with the Zika virus elsewhere.
De Blasio sent a letter to Republican leaders U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Mitch McConnell urging for the $1.9 million in funding to be approved.
U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney said Republicans want a bill that is $800 million less than President Barack Obama and medical experts say is necessary to fight the disease and have included restrictions to funding contraception through entities such as Planned Parenthood.
The Zika virus can also be sexually transmitted from an infected man to his partner.
Espaillat said a mosquito transmitting the disease is not going to discriminate between Democratic or Republicans, so the issue should be free from politics.
While New York City has already begun spraying to kill mosquitos that might potentially transmit the disease, the city could be left vulnerable by other states and cities who don't have those resources, de Blasio said in highlighting the importance of federal funding.
City officials have also stepped up efforts to fight Zika in other ways. For example, they have notified the public to call 311 to report standing water where mosquitos breed. Calls about standing water are three to four times higher than normal, Bassett said.
And the city has sent 2 million condoms to Puerto Rico and is lending out city employees who are knowledgeable about fighting the disease to other areas to share their newly acquired technical expertise.
Now Congress needs to step up, said Maloney who added that Zika funding is set to run out at the end of September.
"This is about saving lives," Maloney said.