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Schumer calls for approval of $2 billion Obama proposal to prevent spread of Zika virus

The Obama administration’s proposal to allocate nearly $2 billion in emergency funding to prevent the spread of the Zika virus in the United States should be approved quickly by federal lawmakers, Sen. Charles E. Schumer said Monday.

Funding is needed for research and to develop a vaccine, Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a news conference outside Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo.

Schumer said he supports a proposal that would provide $1.9 billion that also would pay for education and prevention programs, including mosquito control programs, as well as develop a better test for the virus.

“We don’t want it to be like Ebola where people had to hustle at the last minute. We want to be prepared in time,” Schumer said.

There have been two confirmed cases of Zika virus in Erie and Niagara counties. The individuals contracted the illness while traveling outside the country.

The Zika virus spreads through the bites of two types of mosquitoes, from a mother to her fetus as well as through sexual contact. The two types of mosquito that spread the virus are not commonly found in the Buffalo Niagara area.

About one in five people who are infected become ill, with the most common symptoms being fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis, or pink eye.

The situation has risen to the level of a public health crisis not just because of the illness, but due to a birth defects that can be caused by the infection, said Dr. Mark Hicar, who specializes in pediatric infectious disease at the hospital. One of the defects, microencephaly, affects the growth of a baby’s head and brain.

Additional research is needed to address several questions, including how long women should wait to get pregnant after contracting the virus, Hicar said. The current recommendation is eight weeks, but Hicar admitted health officials “really don’t know.”

Pregnant women are advised to avoid travel to countries where the infection has been recorded, including much of Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean and some Pacific islands.

The federal government spent more than $2.8 billion to deal with the Ebola outbreak in 2014, but the work got a late start, Schumer said.

The senator said he hopes the current proposal for Zika virus funding will pass the Senate within about two weeks. The goal is to have the bill on the president’s desk by June 1.

For more information about the Zika virus, visit