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Michigan’s Zika cases rise to 43

Karen Bouffard, and Melissa Nann Burke

Michigan’s tally of Zika cases grew to 43 through late Wednesday, causing state officials on Thursday to renew precautions for pregnant women and couples hoping to conceive.

Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported there were 2,722 cases across the United states and 14,110 in the U.S. territories through Wednesday. On Thursday, Florida health officials said mosquitoes trapped on South Beach in Miami tested positive for the Zika virus, the first time this has happened in the continental United States.

The CDC in early August recommended that all pregnant women in the United States be assessed at every prenatal visit for the Zika virus.

All of the Michigan cases are believed related to travel to other parts of the world infested by the Zika-spreading Aedes species mosquito, or Ae. aegypti and Ae. albopictus. That species is common in South America, the Pacific Islands and other tropical locales.

Michigan’s Chief Medical Executive Dr. Eden Wells said Aedes mosquitoes do not exist in Michigan, so there is little chance residents will contract Zika here from a mosquito bite.

“Most, if not all, of the (Michigan) cases are in travelers outside the country,” Wells said. “Twenty-six of these are females, and here’s the good thing — none of the females are pregnant.”

The virus can cause serious birth defects in babies born to mothers infected during pregnancy. Clusters of babies have been born with small heads in Brazil and other countries where the disease runs rampant.

The Zika developments come as Congress prepares to return next week. U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, on Thursday again called on the Republican-led Congress to approve a bipartisan emergency funding bill to combat the Zika virus, saying it’s irresponsible to “play politics with an epidemic.”

“Right now, there’s nothing more critical than tackling what is an epidemic,” she said on a call with reporters. “Pregnant women shouldn't be afraid to leave their homes. ... It’s past time to get this done.”

Earlier this year, the Obama administration requested $1.9 billion for the CDC’s anti-Zika work. CDC officials say they’re nearly out of money for their Zika efforts.

Congress recessed for the summer without agreeing on Zika legislation, with Democrats objecting in part because the bill didn’t include Planned Parenthood in the providers eligible for funding for contraception to combat the virus, which can be sexually transmitted.

Stabenow said the version of the legislation to be considered next week still includes a provision that “plays politics with women’s health care.”

Don Stewart, deputy chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said the $1.1 billion legislation set for a vote next week includes funding for contraception and other health care services directed to community health centers and hospitals.

Democrats “are holding up everyone’s funding until Planned Parenthood gets funding,” Steward said by email.

Republican U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, also recently called for bipartisan support for federal resources to find a vaccine and other measures to combat Zika.

“There’s no time for politics. This issue impacts all of us,” said Upton of St. Joseph.

Wells, Michigan’s chief medical executive, said pregnant women or couples planning to conceive should avoid travel to places with Zika-carrying mosquitoes, including Miami and Dade County, Florida.

Those who have traveled to such places, or who have had unprotected sex with a traveler to those locals, should wait two months before trying to conceive. Wells noted that not everybody who gets infected with Zika shows symptoms, which can include a fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis or headache.

“Even if they don’t have symptoms they really need to wait eight weeks before getting pregnant,” Wells said.