Two members of Congress toured the University of South Florida's mosquito lab on Friday, just ahead of the school’s Zika conference.

  • USF Health hosted "Zika at Our Doorstep: An International Public Health Conversation" today
  • Local health and city officials discussed combating the virus
  • Lawmakers and officials also toured USF labs working on Zika fight

Representatives Kathy Castor and David Jolly learned exactly where federal money will go to help combat the spread of the virus -- straight to the front lines, where researchers hope to find breakthroughs.
"When you have a public health crisis, it's very important you do everything you can up front to prevent it," Castor said. "You develop diagnostic tests, vaccine, you educate the community."
But it's hard to learn more about the virus when funding is about to run out. Congress went on vacation in mid-July without approving more money to fight Zika.

"As a Florida delegation, you'll see politics aren’t in play," Jolly said. "Politics are in play at a national level, turning this into a national debate and it shouldn't be."

  • Total number of Florida cases of Zika now at 35
  • 2 new potential cases of Zika being investigated in Miami Beach
  • Zika: What you need to know

Representatives on both sides of the aisle are calling for a Zika funding bill before it spreads throughout the country.
Scientists aren't exactly sure how far it could spread, or how fast.

“Even if this is a vector borne infection, we're talking about the southern half of the entire country all the way through California that’s really at risk for developing this infection,” said Thomas Unnasch of the school’s Department of Global Health.
For now, experts said there’s only one thing they know for sure: Limiting exposure to mosquitoes, and getting rid of standing water are two safe bets.

When the research funding runs out, all bets are off.
Researchers say they also want to learn more about how the virus is sexually transmitted. They aren’t sure if it’s rare or easily transmitted.

Friday's meeting happened as health officials in South Florida work to contain transmission of the virus in Miami neighborhoods.

Gov. Rick Scott said Miami-Dade County has requested funding for more staff and mosquito traps. Scott said health officials will send additional commercial pest control companies to help local mosquito control operations and "ensure the county has every possible tool to fight."  

"This is a virus that has been around, or identified, as long as 60 years ago, but it is truly accelerated," said Dr. Edmund Funai, the chief operating officer at USF Health.

"We’re not clear on why that’s really happened, but frankly, it’s exceptionally concerning because there aren’t too many viruses or organisms in the world that are known to cause birth defects, very very few," he said.