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Letter to Congress Calling for Maintenance of Funding for Vector-Borne Diseases Program at CDC – 4/9/10

The Honorable Tom Harkin
Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies
Committee on Appropriations
731 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Harkin:

On behalf of AABB, the American Red Cross and America’s Blood Centers, we are writing to urgently request you to support maintenance of funding for vector-borne disease activities at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in fiscal year 2011. The entire nearly $27 million budget of CDC’s vector-borne disease program has been removed from the President’s FY 2011 budget. Sustained CDC funding for surveillance and control of new and existing life-threatening vector-borne diseases is critical to providing blood centers throughout the United States with information needed to make blood safety decisions.

Many vector-borne diseases, including West Nile virus (WNV), dengue, several types of encephalitis, Colorado tick fever, Chikungunya virus, and others, have been documented to be transfusion-transmitted or have a high potential to be transfusion-transmitted. To understand the relative risks of such diseases to blood recipients and then develop and implement donor screening tests and measures to protect blood, tissue and organ recipients, it is essential that we have national and regional data about individual disease incidence that has only been available through CDC’s vector-borne disease work.

As an example, forethought by members of the CDC Division of Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases was a critical element in our ability to respond with unprecedented speed to the WNV epidemic when it entered the blood supply in 2002. Since then, blood centers have relied on CDC’s ArboNET’s reporting for timely state-specific information on WNV clinical disease. When ArboNET indicates that a particular region or locality is experiencing a higher rate of WNV, then blood centers in that area adopt more sensitive blood donor screening tests. Although the incidence of WNV has dropped somewhat nationally, it remains a significant threat in some areas of the country and its future behavior is a matter of speculation. The safety of patients receiving blood products in regions of high activity will be adversely impacted by the elimination of the ArboNET program and related local, state and regional surveillance systems funded through the vector-borne diseases program. Similarly, CDC’s research related to dengue provides the blood banking community with information essential to our understanding of the impact of this life-threatening disease on the blood supply. Dengue has been identified as one of the greatest potential infectious risks to blood recipients and it is essential that the United States continue to track this disease so that appropriate blood safety measures can be adopted when needed. These are just two current examples.

In today’s global environment, where tropical diseases are a short plane flight away from our shores, it is inevitable that additional vector-borne diseases will emerge in the United States. The ultimate impact of expanded international travel and global climate change on the epidemiology of vector-borne diseases is unknown but may increase our risks in the US over time. We must be prepared to respond to these risks and adopt appropriate blood safety measures to protect patients.

AABB, the American Red Cross and America’s Blood Centers are very concerned that the President’s FY 2011 budget would eliminate $26.7 million in funding for vector-borne diseases. Although the budget would increase funding for emerging infectious diseases by $18.9 million, none of that funding is guaranteed to be directed to the important vector-borne disease work described above in support of public health in general and blood, tissue and organ safety specifically.

Representing blood centers responsible for collecting virtually all of the blood as well as hospitals transfusing approximately 80 percent of the blood in the United States, our organizations respectfully request that Congress maintain current rates of funding for CDC’s vector-borne disease programs.

If you have questions or require additional information, please contact Theresa Wiegmann, AABB Director of Public Policy, at 301-215-6554. Thank you for your attention to this important public health issue.


Karen Shoos Lipton, JD
Chief Executive Officer

Jim MacPherson
Chief Executive Officer
America’s Blood Centers

Richard Benjamin, MD PhD
Chief Medical Officer
Biomedical Services
American Red Cross