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Fighting Zika Is About Protecting Pregnant Women, Fauci Says


Mosquito season is upon us. And this year, that means lawmakers are wrangling over funding to stem the Zika virus. No funds have been allocated yet, though the Obama administration is pushing for $1.9 billion. To talk about the Zika threat and what he thinks needs to be done, we reached Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Good morning.

ANTHONY FAUCI: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Polls show that the public is not nearly as concerned about Zika as it was about Ebola. Politicians tell us, even in places like Florida, that their constituents aren't calling in. They don't seem to be worried very much. So what is your response to all of that?

FAUCI: Well, I think this is something that we really do need to take seriously. There is unlikely situation that there will be a widespread, sustained outbreak of Zika as we are seeing in South America. But it is almost certain that we will see a local outbreak as we've seen with other similar infections that are transmitted by the identical mosquito. Here at the NIH, we are putting, you know, our foot to the pedal to the floor to try and develop a vaccine for Zika as quickly and as safely as we possibly can.

MONTAGNE: And is there a treatment?

FAUCI: There is no treatment for this virus. This particular disease is generally a rather mild disease. It's characterized by rash, by fever, by aches and pains and by some inflammation of the eyes. And then it generally goes away in several days to a week. However, if you are a pregnant woman and you get infected during pregnancy, you could have dire consequences for the fetus. And that's really what this is all about. It's about protecting pregnant women.

MONTAGNE: Given that, so far, no funding has been allocated to stem the possible spread of the Zika virus, what is the situation? I mean, what is being done or not being done because of that?

FAUCI: Well, we are moving ahead. We cannot wait. This is a serious situation as we enter the robust mosquito season in the next couple of months. So we could not wait to get the money appropriated. We had to move money from other very important areas to be able to start work on Zika. Now, that can only take you so far. We have to go back, fill that money that we essentially mortgaged out of other areas to get this situation going. And the only way we can continue to sustain the effort is to get that money that the president has asked for.

MONTAGNE: What do you think Congress is going to do about this, especially if there are areas of the country where constituents are unconcerned?

FAUCI: Well, I think that everyone realizes that we do need the resources. What we're seeing now is a disagreement about how that - those resources are going to get allocated in the sense of emergency versus appropriation, moving money from Ebola accounts. There's a lot of discussion back and forth, but I do hope that we very soon get the resources that we need.

MONTAGNE: Dr. Fauci, thanks very much.

FAUCI: You're quite welcome.

MONTAGNE: That was Anthony Fauci, who heads up the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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