May 2, 2017: Senate Committee Unanimously Approves King-Authored Bill to Combat Spread of Zika Virus
On April 26, 2017, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee unanimously approved the Strengthening Mosquito Abatement for Safety and Health (SMASH) Act, bipartisan legislation introduced by Senator Angus King (I-Maine) that would help give states and localities the tools they need to fight back against mosquitos and the viruses they carry. The bill will now be sent to the full Senate for its consideration.
The HELP Committee’s unanimously approval of the legislation, which is also cosponsored by Senators Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), comes in the wake of a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that said one in 10 pregnant women confirmed with the Zika virus gave birth to a child with virus-related birth defects. It also comes ahead of the warm summer months when mosquitos carrying the virus are expected to transfer
In considering the legislation today, HELP Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said the bill “will be very critical in our efforts to combat the Zika virus.”
“This is a positive step forward in the ongoing work to prepare for the fight against the Zika virus as we move into the warmer summer months,” Senator King said. “And states and localities are where the battle can most effectively be fought. As we know, Maine has been fighting insect-borne diseases like Lyme for decades. Now, with the CDC outlining the serious and growing dangers of this virus, it’s critical that Congress move in an expedited manner to provide states with the funding they need for mosquito abatement efforts. I hope the Senate can quickly pass this common-sense bill.”
More specifically, the Strengthening Mosquito Abatement for Safety and Health (SMASH) Act would reauthorize critical public health tools that support states and localities in their mosquito surveillance and control efforts, especially those linked to mosquitos that carry the Zika virus, and improve the nation’s preparedness for Zika and other mosquito-borne threats.
Zika is a mosquito-borne infectious disease that is primarily transmitted to humans by the female yellow fever (A. aegypti) and Asian tiger (A. albopictus) mosquitos. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recently said that 44 states reported cases of pregnant women with evidence of Zika in 2016, has linked the Zika virus to serious health condition, including birth defects in infants such as microcephaly as well as neurological disorders.
Despite the very real and imminent threat posed by Zika, the United States remains woefully unprepared to prevent and address the spread of the virus. To help change that, the SMASH Act takes the following three immediate steps to combat the threat of Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases:
Strengthens our ability to respond to Zika by reauthorizing and improving mosquito control: The legislation reauthorizes and makes targeted improvements to the lapsed Mosquito Abatement Safety and Health (MASH) Act, which was enacted in 2003 in response to the West Nile virus. It also authorizes increased support for state and local mosquito control work – efforts that are critical for controlling and reducing the mosquitos that spread infectious diseases. Under the bill, up to $100 million in grants will be authorized each year in addition to matching funds to state and local governments.
Improves public health preparedness through laboratory research: The legislation reauthorizes the epidemiology laboratory capacity grants under the Public Health Service Act, which support state and local health departments in surveillance for, and response to, infectious diseases, including Zika. Laboratory capacity plays a pivotal role in preparation for and response to public health threats.
Inform how we can refine and improve mosquito control: Requires timely study, report, and recommendations by the Government Accountability Office regarding existing mosquito and other vector-borne surveillance and control programs. This analysis will help Congress to identify opportunities to strengthen our public health preparedness programs in partnerships with states and local communities. Ultimately, such analysis will better protect Americans from emerging mosquito-borne infectious diseases. Applying the lessons learned from responses to public health threats is critical for continuing to optimize our nation’s medical and public health preparedness and response.
The legislation has been endorsed by the National Pest Management Association, the American Mosquito Control Association, the Entomological Society of America, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.