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Top CDC Official: Zika Fight More Challenging Than 2014 Dallas Ebola Crisis

CDC Officials Say Texas Doctors Need to Be On Alert for Zika Cases

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    NEWSLETTERS

    (Published Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016)

    The doctor in charge of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's response to the Zika virus says the battle against the mosquito-borne illness is proving even more challenging than the Ebola crisis in Dallas two years ago.

    Dr. Lyle Petersen, a CDC veteran who traveled to Dallas to manage the agency's response to Ebola, now serves as CDC's Zika incident manager.

    In an interview with NBC 5 Investigates, Peterson said as bad as the Ebola situation was, Zika in many ways poses tougher problems for health officials because of how it's spread, both by mosquitoes and sexual transmission.

    "Very strict infection control we knew could control Ebola. With this, it's a completely different story. We are learning new things every single day," Petersen said.

    Petersen describes his current job as a surprise a minute, with some new development to react to every day – from concerns about Zika-related birth defects in babies to the discovery of locally transmitted Zika cases in Miami.

    In an interview, Petersen said he's very concerned about Zika in Texas right now. He said it's still a good possibility Texas will see locally transmitted Zika cases by the end of November.

    Petersen said Texas doctors need to be on alert now more than ever to watch for possible Zika cases with the state in the height of the mosquito season. Spotting locally transmitted cases early would be a key to stopping the spread if it happens in Texas.

    "What keeps me up at night is just worrying about women getting infected, and the adverse effects on their babies and what's going to happen to those families," Petersen said.

    Inside the CDC's sprawling Atlanta campus, crisis managers are working around the clock in the agency's emergency operations center, communicating with local health officials and making key decisions on how to respond.

    At least 1,000 CDC employees have worked on Zika so far.

    Adding to their worries, Petersen says the CDC is running short on Zika funding. And if there's a new outbreak in another state, like Texas, the agency says it may not be able send emergency funds.

    "We are very close to running out of money, and I'm not a financial person but it is true we are really down to the bottom of the barrel," Petersen said.

    Congress is expected to take up the Zika funding issue again next week when members return from summer break.

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