Health Highlights: May 18, 2016

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

U.S. Senate Votes to Provide $1.1 Billion to Fight Zika

A plan to provide $1.1 billion in emergency funding to fight the Zika virus was passed Tuesday by the U.S. Senate.

That falls short of the $1.9 billion requested by the White House to combat the mosquito-borne virus, but is much more than what’s been tabled by House Republicans, who have offered $622 million to be reallocated from other programs, The New York Times reported.

A proposal to provide the full $1.9 billion failed a Senate vote, along with a proposal to provide the money, but with offsetting spending cuts. The vote in favor of the compromise plan was 68 to 29. It had the support of 22 Republicans and all Democrats.

Those who called for government action included Senate Republicans from Southern states that are under imminent threat from the Zika virus. One of them was Senator Johnny Isakson, Republican of Georgia, who viewed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention models of how the virus could spread, The Times reported.

“If anybody in the audience or in this room doesn’t think this is an emergency, you should have been with Senator (Susan) Collins (Republican of Maine) and I two weeks ago at the CDC in Atlanta,” Isakson said.

“There have already been one million cases in the Caribbean and Central America and South America, 500 cases in the United States of America, and it’s going to grow,” he warned.

“This is a lot of money, but it is only a pittance compared to what it would cost if the epidemic got out of control and we didn’t stop it and we didn’t defeat it,” Isakson said.


Bill Banning Abortion After 19 Weeks Passed in South Carolina

A bill banning abortion after 19 weeks of pregnancy was passed Tuesday by the South Carolina legislature and now goes to Gov. Nikki Haley.

In March, the Republican governor said she was likely to sign it, but wanted to study the details when it reached her, the Associated Press reported.

Similar laws have been enacted in 12 states and blocked by court challenges in three other states. A South Dakota law signed in March takes effect this summer, and a related law in Utah requires doctors to provide anesthesia to a fetus of at least 20 weeks.

The South Carolina ban on abortions after 19 weeks permits exceptions only if the mother’s life is in danger or if a doctor concludes the fetus can’t survive outside the womb. It would be illegal to abort a fetus with a severe disability if the fetus could survive. Such defects are generally detected around 20 weeks, the AP reported.

Like many similar laws in other states, the South Carolina bill does not contain exceptions for rape or incest.

Of the 16 states that have passed similar abortion restrictions, only four allow an abortion if a doctor determines the fetus will be stillborn or die upon birth, the AP reported.


Scientists Clone Zika Virus

Scientists who cloned the Zika virus for the first time say their achievement could speed efforts to create a vaccine against the mosquito-borne virus that can cause serious birth defects and neurological problems.

The team at The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston developed a way to genetically engineer Zika, meaning it can now be made in the laboratory, CNN reported.

This will enable scientists to study and adapt the virus to develop a vaccine and to test experimental vaccines, according to study lead author Pei-Yong Shi.

“What we’ve created is something that is reproducible, meaning that batches of this virus can be made in large quantities,” he told CNN.

If the virus can be adapted to make a safe and effective vaccine, tests on animals could begin soon and clinical trials on people could start as early as next year, according to Shi.

“But of course this will depend on whether we see serious side effects. We don’t even know yet what the full impact of Zika is, besides microcephaly and some other neurological diseases,” he told CNN.

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