WASHINGTON — Nearly a third of Americans say fears of the Zika virus are affecting travel or other plans by members of their families, a broad impact that is fueling support for Congress to pass funding to curb spread of the disease in the United States.
In a USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll, those surveyed by more than a 3-1 margin — 62%-19% — said Congress should approve additional funding to fight the virus rather than continue to divert funds from other programs. The Senate could vote on a $1.1 billion measure on Zika as early as Tuesday, when lawmakers return after a seven-week recess.
Senate Democrats have blocked a version passed by the House because it includes provisions they say would bar funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides health-care services to pregnant women and others most affected by the mosquito-borne virus. Dozens of cases of Zika, which can cause devastating birth defects, have been diagnosed in Florida and elsewhere since Congress left town.
"It does scare me," said Carol Fisher, 56, a nurse from Teaneck, N.J., who was among those called in the poll. "It has the potential to blow up in a world-wide problem with the way people travel, the idea of containing this to a neighborhood in Miami is just ridiculous. It's almost like that movie, Contagion, where it keeps going and going and going." (The 2011 medical thriller tracked a mysterious and deadly disease that spread worldwide after a Minnesota woman returned from a business trip to Hong Kong.)
The poll of 1,000 likely voters, taken Aug. 24-29, has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.
The other most pressing item of business for Congress during its final four-week session before the election is a short-term funding bill to keep the federal government operating after the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
Last week, Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned that the health agency is almost out of money to fight Zika's spread. "The cupboard is bare," Frieden told reporters.
Three in 10 Americans, including 36% of those who live in the South, the most affected region, say concern about Zika has affected travel or other plans by themselves or family members. There's no partisan profile to the reported impact, which is roughly the same among Republicans and Democrats.
Both Democrats and Republicans were inclined to back additional funding to combat Zika. Democrats supported the idea by an overwhelming margin, 78%-11%. Republicans also backed the new funding, but by a narrower 44%-27%; another 28% said they were undecided.
"Personally, I don’t think it's something to worry about," said Joe Thomas, 64, of Trinity, N.C., who was among those surveyed. Thomas, in a follow-up interview, said other priorities were more important. "We need to get to the matters at hand."
What to know about Zika...