Zika Virus in Puerto Rico

The Zika virus, a tropical disease spread by mosquitoes, has taken hold in Puerto Rico.

The virus has mild, flu-like symptoms for most people, and most who catch it don’t even realize that they have Zika. Most recover fully. However, the Zika virus is associated with serious birth defects, including microcephaly, when pregnant women contract the disease.

Zika is also associated with a condition called Guillain Barre Syndrome, which can lead to paralysis and even death.

  • The Puerto Rico health department announced 10,690 confirmed cases of Zika in Puerto Rico.
  • 1,035 pregnant women are among those confirmed.
  • One death from Guillain Barre Syndrome has been reported in Puerto Rico.
  • The Centers for Disease Control have labeled Puerto Rico a Level 2 location for Zika, meaning people should take extra precautions.

Unfortunately, there are some challenges in responding to the Zika virus in Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans who have dealt with chikungunya and dengue for years are not always as concerned about the disease as the CDC would like. The CDC called for spraying with Naled, a toxic substance. They felt it was necessary, but Governor Garcia Padilla refused to allow its use and accused the CDC of “blackmail.”¬† The mayor of San Juan filed suit to prevent spraying. Planned anti-mosquito efforts have been undertaken in some but not all municipalities. Currently, healthcare professionals in Puerto Rico are focusing on prevention, recommending mosquito repellent and condoms to prevent the spread of the disease.

Congress left for their summer recess without passing a funding bill requested by the White House in February. Accurate estimates of the amount of funding provided in Puerto Rico are unavailable, but the CDC reports that “Funding amounts for the 40 states and territories receiving the assistance [Puerto Rico is one] range from $200,000-$720,000.” The Department of Health and Human Services also awarded $5 million to clinics in Puerto Rico.

Reports from Florida at the same time said there were 84 cases of Zika in Florida.

Gov. Rick Scott earmarked $26.2 million in state funds to go with $413,000 in federal funds to combat Zika in Florida, according to the Orlando Sentinel. This means that Florida has at least $26,613,000 to work on preventing their 100th case of Zika.

The territory of Puerto Rico has received perhaps 20% of that amount as they try to prevent their 11,000th case.

There are differences of opinion on how the Zika outbreak should be handled, and some commenters have claimed that the U.S. media coverage of the issue smacks of colonialism. More significant, perhaps, is the difference in the response to Zika in a state and the response to Zika in a territory.

The U.S. Constitution allows the U.S. government to treat territories differently from states. Puerto Rico receives less federal funding than any of the states in many areas, even though the average income in Puerto Rico is much lower than that in any of the 50 states. As a state, Puerto Rico would have senators and congressmen or congresswomen with a vote. Puerto Rico’s voters could vote in presidential elections. And Puerto Rico would have the same rights that states have.

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