Senator Rounds’ Weekly Column: Protecting South Dakotans From Zika

Rounds Logo 2016 MikeRounds official SenateProtecting South Dakotans From Zika
By Senator Mike Rounds

Many of us spend extra time outdoors during the summer months – working in the field, making improvements to our homes or enjoying the many recreational activities our state has to offer. While we enjoy this extra time outside, we also take extra precautions to protect ourselves and our families from mosquitos, whose bites can come with unwanted harm. The most recent mosquito-borne threat to our health is the Zika virus.

The Zika virus is spread when an individual is bitten by an infected species of mosquito. These mosquitos are found primarily in South America, Central America and the Caribbean, but have recently been found in Florida and can also be found in other isolated places throughout the world. While most individuals who become infected with Zika experience mild symptoms or none at all, the virus can be dangerous to women of child-bearing age. This is because unborn babies whose mothers are infected with the Zika virus can experience severe birth defects. There is currently no cure for Zika, and more research is necessary to combat the virus.

Earlier this summer, the House and Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation to prevent and combat the Zika virus. In mid-July, the House passed the funding measure as a conference report, but when it came before the Senate, Democrats in the Senate decided against supporting the conference report. Their reasoning appears to be that they wanted specific additional funding for Planned Parenthood. However, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out, this argument is unfounded: “Planned Parenthood simply isn’t on the specific list of public health clinics and community health centers that will receive additional and immediate social-services block-grant funding in Zika-hit locales.” In other words, they wanted special treatment for Planned Parenthood, even though Planned Parenthood could still qualify for funding as a Medicaid provider under the bill.

It should be made very clear that Republicans have supported not only the Senate version of the bill, but also voted twice to adopt the conference committee report that provides more than $1.1 billion to fight the Zika virus. The director of the Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases recently said that Gulf States are increasingly at risk for a serious Zika outbreak. It is clear that the virus will continue to pose a threat until we authorize funds to control the mosquito population and work to develop a vaccine or cure for it. Under the Senate rules, 60 votes are needed to bring legislation up for final passage, and since the conference report is not amendable, the Senate and House both have to agree to accept or reject the compromise proposal between the two chambers. This requires both Republican and Democrat support in order to make sure this funding measure moves forward. 

When Congress reconvenes in Washington, D.C., in September, Democrats will have an opportunity once again to put aside their election-year theatrics and support funding to combat Zika. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has indicated it will be one of the first votes to come up. In the meantime, pregnant women, or women who are trying to become pregnant, are advised to stay away from countries where Zika is prevalent and contact your doctor immediately if you are experiencing symptoms. For more information, visit