Zika virus: White House diverts unused Ebola funds but warns it's not enough

The White House will reroute funding intended for 2014's Ebola virus outbreak to address the spread of the Zika virus, according to The New York Times.

In February, Congressional Republicans balked at the Obama administration's request for additional funding to fight the virus and suggested the White House use leftover Ebola funds instead, FierceHealthcare previously reported. Administration officials will transfer $510 million in remaining funds along with another $79 million from leftover accounts, but stressed this would not be enough to meet public health needs long-term compared to the $1.8 billion the White House requested.

The spread of Zika has often been touted as an opportunity to correct mistakes health officials made in their response to Ebola, with the World Health Organization (WHO) acting far more quickly on Zika than on Ebola. In the latter case, the WHO confirmed an outbreak in March 2014 but did not declare a public health emergency until five months later, after nearly 1,000 people had died of Ebola in West Africa, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Meanwhile, the WHO focused its attention on Zika and declared it a public health emergency almost immediately, according to the article, hoping a head start before the body count rose would hasten development of vaccines and treatments. However, experts note the different levels of organization at the WHO's regional offices likely also played a role, with the organization's African offices significantly less efficient and worse-funded.

Similarly thorough preparations are underway in the U.S. at the state level. For example, while no cases thus far have originated in Florida, the Sunshine State has confirmed 82 cases in the state that originated elsewhere, according to The Tampa Tribune, leading hospitals, clinics and blood banks to implement more rigorous screening.

Regions of the United States, however, are still not prepared, according to WebMD: more than half of states lack mosquito control, even as hotter temperatures approach and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research indicates 80 percent of states are at risk for the virus.

A major stumbling block for containing Zika has been an amorphous understanding of the virus, according to Vox. Prior to the most recent cases, six decades had only produced about 25 published research papers on the subject. Nearly 10 times that number have been published this year alone. The discovery that the virus can definitely spread through sexual contact is similarly recent, with experts in past decades believing it only spread through mosquitoes, and considerable research is still necessary to determine details, such as whether women, like men, can transmit Zika sexually.

To learn more:
- here's The New York Times article
- read the ChicagoTribune article
- here's the Tampa Tribune article
- read the WebMD article
- check out the Vox story