Christine Stuart photo
U.S. Richard Blumenthal (Christine Stuart photo)

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal visited Martin Park in East Hartford Monday to call upon Congress to convene a special emergency session to approve $1.1 billion in funding to combat the Zika virus.

Congress recessed for a seven weeks without appropriating emergency funds to fight Zika. But minority Democrats have no authority to make that happen. It’s up to the Republican majority.

“Clearly, action is necessary to address the looming public health crisis, an epidemic of zika that threatens the entire country, including Connecticut,” Blumenthal said, citing the four locally acquired cases of Zika in Florida. Before the four Florida cases, the virus was being acquired in Puerto Rico and Latin American countries. He also suggested that the problem could be exacerbated in the US by the return of people carrying the virus from the Olympics in Brazil.

At the Republican National Convention two weeks ago in Cleveland, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blamed the Democrats for failing to pass a Zika funding bill before the recess. However, he failed to mention that the bill also cut funding for Planned Parenthood, as well as the Affordable Care Act. Those amendments were unacceptable to Democrats.

Blumenthal advocated for a clean version of the legislation.

There’s “no political gain in Zika spreading around the United States,” he said, adding that the blame will be shared by everyone in public office if Congress fails to do its job.

“Mosquitos, not unsurprisingly, don’t know the difference between red states and blue states,” Blumenthal said. “There should be nothing partisan about fighting this epidemic.”

Republican leadership needs to return to Washington to vote on a bill focused solely on funding to combat the Zika virus because the effort has to be a national effort and can’t be a “state by state isolated effort,” Blumenthal said.

“It should not be made a vehicle for ideological messaging,” Blumenthal said.

According to the Connecticut Department of Public Health, 45 Connecticut residents have tested positive for the Zika virus. Only three of those 45 are pregnant. The virus can cause babies to be born with small heads, a condition known as microcephaly. Symptoms in adults are usually mild and include fever, headache, joint pain, and rash. The symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control, can last for several days to a week and typically don’t require hospitalization.

Connecticut also received a $579,000 grant Monday from the Centers for Disease Control. Blumenthal said the money can be used to track cases. He said it can’t be used for the “full scale national effort that is necessary to develop a new vaccine, eradicate mosquitoes, or educate people to stop the spread of the virus, which can be sexually transmitted.

Christine Stuart photo
Mosquito larva (Christine Stuart photo)

Congress isn’t expected to return to address the issue until September.

Last Friday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada tweeted that the House and the Senate needs to return to approve Zika funding.

Meanwhile, Kurt Ehrhart and his team at Innovative Mosquito Management in East Hartford were hard at work Monday spraying larvicide across a marshy area of Martin Park where they found mosquito larva.

Ehrhart said the mosquito larva dies after eating the spores his team sprays. He said the spores don’t impact fish or birds or any other wildlife in the same way. They only kill mosquitoes and blackflies.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito — the primary carrier of the Zika virus — is not part of Connecticut’s mosquito population, but there’s another mosquito in Fairfield and New Haven counties that could carry the virus, according to Theodore Andreadis, who heads the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is primarily associated with the Zika outbreak, is only found in the extreme southern portions of the United States, Andreadis has said.

But there’s another breed called the Asian Tiger mosquito that has been involved in small outbreaks of Zika virus in other parts of the world.

Ehrhart said there are other mosquitoes too that will likely show up carrying the Zika virus.

“They don’t know enough about Zika and which mosquitoes will carry it,” Ehrhart said.