Asked and Answered: President Obama's Letter to a Mother Concerned About the Zika Virus

It's the height of mosquito season. What is normally a nuisance in the summer has turned into a serious public health emergency, especially for Americans who are expecting or planning to start a family.  

The Zika virus — and the mosquitos that carry them — have made their way to the United States. The President is working with local officials, the Centers for Disease Control, and other federal agencies to do what we can to prevent the spread of the virus and help Americans in the affected areas protect themselves and their families.  

You can learn more about the virus and how to protect yourself here

The threat this virus poses to developing babies is particularly concerning for women who are pregnant or thinking about starting or growing their families. One woman, Ashley Young, wrote directly to the President about her concern: 

“In the south, it is hard to walk outside and not get bitten by a mosquito in the warmer months. … Mr. President, if I am going to be completely honest with you, if I wasn't already pregnant, I would think twice about becoming pregnant at all until something is done about this virus.”

 

The President, whose Administration has been working around the clock on the Zika virus, shares her concern, and wrote back to her. 

Read Ashley's letter and the President's response: 

Ashley Young's letter to the President on Zika

Transcript: 

Mr. President, 

I am a very concerned pregnant woman living in the south. The recent news about the Zika virus has been in numerous news stories recently. I am currently pregnant with my third child. I have two, healthy boys that bring so much joy into my life daily. We went through quite a long, difficult journey to conceive both of our boys, but with our third child everything has been much easier. However, thought of contracting a virus from a mosquito that could cause major neurological birth defects for my unborn child is very hard to wrap my head around. I feel that something must be done now to help stop these mosquitoes from spreading this dangerous virus in our country. If we don't find a way to stop it now, then I am afraid we will end up with thousands of babies that have nuerological birth defects that will affect them for the rest of their lives. I understand that you have called for a vaccine to be created to solve the future spread of this disease, but a vaccine will not do anything to protect my unborn child or the unborn children of other pregnant women. In the south, it is hard to walk outside and not get bitten by a mosquito in the warmer months. Being that my child is not due until the middle of the summer, I am extremely concerned that by then the virus may have spread and possibly could infect me before I am able to deliver a healthy baby free from neurological or other birth defects as a result of the Zika virus. Mr. President, if I am going to be completely honest with you, if I wasn't already pregnant, I would think twice about becoming pregnant at all until something is done about this virus. I believe that as a result of your strong push for affordable healthcare for everyone, that you will see the need to make sure somethin gis done about this virus before it is able to spread and possible infect thousands of babies causing permanent, life-long birth defects. I want to thank you for promptly addressing this concern, as I am sure it is a concern for not only myself and my unborn child but also of thousands of other women and families in our country. 

Sincerely, 

Ashley Young

Read the President's letter back to Ashley: 

President Obama's response to Ashley on Zika

Transcript:

Dear Ashley:

Thank you for writing me. Your email reached my desk, and as President and as a father, I want you to know I take your concerns very seriously. My foremost priority is the health and safety of Americans and my Administration is working around the clock to protect you and families across our country. 

Most people who become infected with Zika will not even know it because the symptoms are usually nonexistent or mild. However, as you noted, scientists have established a link between Zika infections during pregnancy and poor birth outcomes. Our primary goal is to minimize these outcomes, and early in the year I instructed by staff to do all we can to respond to the Zika threat.

While we are still learning about Zika, we do know there are ways to minimize your risk if it does appear in your community, including protecting yourself from mosquito bites by wearing long sleeves and pants, staying in places with air conditioning and window and door screens, and wearing EPA-registered insect repellants. You ccan find more information and steps you can take to protect yourself and your family from Zika at www.CDC.gov/Zika. CDC regularly updates this information as we learn more, so I encourage you to check back often. 

In the meantime, I have directed my team to accelerate research on new vaccines and methods of detecting the disease. Additionally, I've formed a coalition of experts and Federal, State, and local leaders to combat the spread of Zika so that we can identify any outbreaks in the continental United States early and contain them. To make sure our public health officials have the resources needed to prepare and respond to Zika, I've asked Congress to approve $1.9 billion in emergency funding to support and advance these efforts as quickly as possible. 

.Again, thank you for writing. Your message will remain on my mind. 

Sincerely,

Barack Obama 

Fortunately, Ashley's baby, Savannah, was born healthy. But the federal government can and should do more to help protect Americans like Ashley. However, Congress went on a 7-week vacation without passing the emergency funding President Obama requested more than 6 months ago — well-ahead of mosquito season.

Mosquito season and Zika

Failure to pass that emergency funding means less-effective mosquito control efforts, longer wait times for diagnostic results, delayed process in finding a vaccine, and more Americans at risk.

President Obama and his Administration will continue to do everything possible to address the Zika virus. To learn more about what you can do to help protect you and your family, check out hhs.gov/zika.