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Heinrich Highlights Groundbreaking Zika Virus Research At UNM Health Sciences Center

As the threat of the Zika virus grows, Heinrich continues call for emergency funding to address the outbreak

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) met with researchers in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of New Mexico (UNM) Health Sciences Center and was briefed on their work to combat the Zika virus and other mosquito-borne infectious diseases. 

"Zika is a public health emergency that requires a real response" said Sen. Heinrich. "I am proud that the scientific talent in New Mexico is leading the development of tools to combat the spread of this virus. It's long past time for Congress to take Zika seriously and pass emergency funding that gives doctors and scientists the resources they need to fight Zika. However, Republicans continue to hijack the process by attaching partisan political measures--most recently related to Planned Parenthood and the confederate flag--that ultimately put pregnant women and children at risk of dangerous birth defects."

Researchers at UNM are working to combat Zika by targeting their larvae through a safe, effective, and inexpensive treatment that uses lemon grass oil as a natural insecticide. They are also partnering with Los Alamos National Laboratories to develop a Zika vaccine and diagnostic tools to identify Zika in humans and mosquitoes. 

Senator Heinrich has called for urgent action to address the Zika outbreak. In April, he wrote to Republican leadership calling for immediate passage of President Obama's emergency supplemental funding request of $1.9 billion for prevention and treatment of the Zika virus. However, Republicans have failed to answer the call of this public health emergency and abandoned the bipartisan Zika response plan, choosing instead to advance an extreme bill loaded with partisan "poison pill" amendments that would limit access to birth control, weaken clean air and water protections, and break the bipartisan tradition of passing emergency disaster funding.

The Zika virus is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti species of mosquitoes, has spread through South and Central American countries. For most, the symptoms of Zika are mild, but for infected pregnant women, the effects can be devastating. Zika has been linked to microcephaly in developing fetuses, which can lead to below-average head size, developmental difficulties, and brain damage. As of mid-June the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that three births have resulted in defects caused by Zika in the United States.

The CDC is currently monitoring 481 pregnant women in the United States and Territories with laboratory evidence of possible Zika virus infection. Accordingly, Zika has been deemed a public health emergency by the World Health Organization.