In 2002-03, more than 14,000 people in the United States contracted West Nile virus. It returned again in 2012, infecting 6,000 more Americans. We all know the culprit: mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes are more than just a summertime pest.  They spread not only West Nile;  they also spread malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever, eastern equine encephalitis, chikungunya, and now, Zika—a virus that can cause serious birth defects in babies.

And while the emergence of these viruses always seems to take us by surprise, both history and science tell us that they should not.  We should expect these infectious diseases to both continue and increase faster than ever before.  At least 60 percent of all the infectious diseases that affect humans are “crossovers” from diseases that primarily reside in other animals. And global trade and travel will likely drive the introduction of more pathogens in the coming years.

The good news is that mosquito control is among the most effective ways to prevent human infections and stop the spread of several of these serious diseases. So when it comes to combating Zika today, it makes good sense to look to the past for a solution.

More than ten years ago, during the peak of the 2003 West Nile outbreak, Congress quickly responded by passing the bipartisan Mosquito Abatement for Safety and Health (MASH) Act. Because most mosquito control occurs at the local level, MASH authorized spending $100 million to provide matching grants to local efforts to fight, control, and eliminate mosquitoes – which in turn stops the transmission of the diseases they carry.

But here’s the interesting thing about MASH—it may be one solution to fighting the viruses causing Zika, West Nile, chikungunya, dengue fever, or even more serious future health threats spread by mosquitoes.

The Senate recently passed a bill that provides money for mosquito control to combat Zika, but once we use up these funds, they’re gone. And then we will be back to square one – vulnerable to future mosquito-borne diseases. 

So with recent history as our guide, and knowing that it is only a matter of time before a new mosquito-borne disease appears, we believe we should take steps to invest in the tools we have to control mosquitoes and the programs we have to support mosquito control.

That’s why we have introduced bipartisan legislation – the Strengthening MASH (SMASH) Act – that would authorize $130 million every year for the next five years for mosquito control. We are facing a long-term problem—the question is not whether we will spend our tax dollars to address this problem but when. We think it’s smarter that we make the investment both when it is cheaper and before people get sick.

Let’s not be penny wise and dollar foolish when it comes to public health preparedness and protecting Americans. Instead, let’s learn from our history, take action now, and support the programs necessary to SMASH Zika and better prepare for the next mosquito-borne threat we may face. 

 


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