Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

At K-State, Zika Researchers Move Ahead amid Congressional Gridlock

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

At K-State, Zika Researchers Move Ahead amid Congressional Gridlock

Article excerpt

MANHATTAN -- As Congress remains deadlocked on bankrolling research into the Zika virus, a leading infectious disease expert at Kansas State University isn't waiting for federal funds.

"We thought it was sufficiently important to begin working on Zika, so we did it with our own funding, basically," said Stephen Higgs, director of the Biosecurity Research Institute.

The virus, which is spread by mosquitoes, can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus, leading to serious birth defects. There are more than 1,300 Zika cases in the continental U.S., all of which have been linked to travel, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The first Kansas cases appeared in March.

Zika's advance north into the U.S. comes at an inauspicious time. Congress left last week for a seven-week break without passing a funding package for researchers to stop the spread of infections.

"It hasn't held us up at this point, but it would certainly be nice to get some of that funding coming through so that it can be distributed," Higgs said.

"It's not going to shut down anything we already have," added Sarah Caldwell Hancock, a spokeswoman in the university's Office of Research. "They just aren't opening up new opportunities because the money hasn't been appropriated."

Congressional Democrats and President Barack Obama have advocated for $1.9 billion in financing to fight Zika, a sum Republicans believe is superfluous. In May, the Senate approved $1.1 billion in funding, but House Republicans returned with a $622 million funding bill. That legislation would have moved money from other federal programs, a transfer opposed by Democrats.

A compromise appeared to be near last month when the House and Senate largely agreed on a $1.1 billion bill. But Democrats accused Republicans of attaching unrelated amendments to restrict the role of Planned Parenthood in administering contraceptive services. Senate Democrats blocked the bill on June 28.

The result is political gridlock and finger-pointing, despite a universal understanding in Congress that funds are needed. …

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