Senate approves $1.1 billion to fight Zika virus

2016-05-20 06:13:04

WASHINGTON An election-year fight over addressing the spreading Zika virus intensified in the U.S. Congress as the Senate on Thursday approved $1.1 billion in emergency money one day after the House of Representatives voted $622.1 million financed through cuts to existing programs.The two chambers would have to reach agreement on a spending level before they can send it to President Barack Obama, who in February requested $1.9 billion. The White House has called the House measure "woefully inadequate" and has threatened to veto it.Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington State urged Congress to act quickly, saying, "This is a public health emergency and Congress should treat it like one." The Senate will enter negotiations with the House with a strong hand: a bipartisan 68-30 vote in favor of the emergency funds to battle Zika, a virus that has been spreading rapidly through the Americas, with more than 100 confirmed cases in the U.S. state of Florida. However, the conservative group Heritage Action is lobbying against any Zika funding bill that is not paid for with an equal amount of spending cuts.The Senate's funding was attached to an unrelated transportation and housing appropriations bill that also passed the chamber on Thursday.U.S. health officials have concluded that Zika infections in pregnant women can cause microcephaly, a birth defect marked by small head size that can lead to severe developmental problems in babies. The World Health Organization has said there is strong scientific consensus that Zika can also cause Guillain-Barre, a rare neurological syndrome that causes temporary paralysis in adults. Conservative Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah tried unsuccessfully to kill the Senate funding, saying the Obama administration already had enough money to deal with Zika."What we should not do, however, is allow the Zika virus to be yet another excuse to run up the national debt," Lee said. But Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a moderate Republican, countered that U.S. debt problems were rooted in the rapid growth in the cost of huge programs such as Social Security and Medicare and not so-called "discretionary" spending like on Zika. (Reporting By Richard Cowan; Editing by Alistair Bell, Bernard Orr)

Data shows Zika virus stays longer in urine than blood-U.S. CDC

2016-05-11 03:47:05

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its diagnostic testing guidelines for the Zika virus on Tuesday, based on early data showing that it can be found at higher levels or last longer in urine than in blood.The agency now recommends that its preferred diagnostic test, called Zika virus RT-PCR, be conducted on urine collected less than 14 days after the individual suspected of having the disease starts experiencing symptoms. (1.usa.gov/27bd489)The test should be performed in conjunction with blood testing if the specimens are collected less than seven days after the onset of symptoms, the CDC said.A positive result in either case provides adequate evidence of infection, the agency said. The CDC recommendations for Zika testing though blood and other procedures remain unchanged.The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Zika outbreak an international health emergency on Feb. 1. The outbreak is affecting large parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, with Brazil the hardest hit so far. U.S. health officials have concluded that Zika infections in pregnant women can cause microcephaly, a birth defect that can lead to severe developmental problems in babies. The virus is also linked to a host of other debilitating disorders. (Reporting by Natalie Grover in Bengaluru; Editing by Ted Kerr)

Competency hearing to resume for accused Colorado clinic gunman

2016-05-10 18:53:05

DENVER The man who proclaimed himself a "warrior for the babies" after a fatal shooting spree at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado last year was due back in court on Tuesday for the continuation of a hearing on his mental state.During a daylong hearing last month, two state psychologists testified that their evaluation of Robert Lewis Dear, 58, found him delusional and unfit to stand trial for the Colorado Springs rampage that left three dead and nine wounded.El Paso County judge Gilbert Martinez ordered the mental evaluation of Dear in December after the South Carolina native insisted on firing his attorney and representing himself in a case stemming from the first fatal attack on a U.S. abortion provider since 2009.Dear, who has insisted he is competent, declared himself guilty and a "warrior for the babies" in previous courtroom outbursts.If Martinez rules Dear unfit - meaning he is incapable of understanding the proceedings and assisting in his own defense - the case will be suspended and he will be sent back to a state hospital where doctors will seek to restore him to competency. The first of two psychologists to testify on April 28, Jackie Grimmett, said Dear appeared to be suffering from a delusional disorder, possessing a factual but not rational understanding of the criminal proceedings.Her colleague, B. Thomas Gray, concurred that Dear was delusional, saying the defendant "intends to plead guilty unless God tells him differently." A police detective who took the stand recounted Dear telling police after his arrest that he believed he was being followed by 10 federal agents the day of the shooting.As the proceeding wore on, Dear repeatedly interjected, at one point telling the judge, "If you find me incompetent, I'll know you're with them."Dear has been held without bond since surrendering at the end of a bloody five-hour siege on Nov. 27 at the Planned Parenthood center, where police said he opened fire outside the building then stormed inside. Among those killed were two people who happened to be in the clinic's waiting area - a U.S. Army veteran and a mother of two - as well as a police officer.Dear, charged with first degree murder, attempted murder and assault, has not formally entered a plea. Prosecutors have yet to say whether they intend to seek the death penalty if he were convicted. (Edited by Steve Gorman)

Yen falls after Tokyo warning

2016-05-09 11:53:06

LONDON The dollar hit a 10-day high against the yen on Monday after Japan's finance minister said outright that Tokyo was ready to intervene in the currency market if yen moves are volatile enough to hurt trade and the economy.In a mixed day for stock markets, the yen's falls helped generate some limited gains for the Nikkei, while a strong batch of industrial orders numbers out of Germany helped European shares recover from their worst week since mid-February. But Shanghai .SSEC sank almost 3 percent after worse-than-expected Chinese trade numbers. Those added to the more general doubts about the pace of global growth and the likelihood of rises in interest rates this year generated by Friday's U.S. jobs data.An almost 15 percent surge for the yen has been the big currency story of the past six months and traders remain skeptical over the chances of Tokyo making good on repeated threats to counter the move in the absence of global support. Japan is the developed world's most consistent interventionist on markets over the past two decades as it strives to find a way out of a cycle of low growth and low inflation. But previous bouts of yen selling have tended to come with at least tacit blessing of its international partners and this time Washington seems opposed."Finance Minister Aso stated strongly that sudden yen strength or weakness is bad and that Japan has the means to intervene," said Lee Hardman, a currency analyst with Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ in London."He also attempted to alter market expectations that US opposition will prevent Japan from intervening. Overall, the comments do not significantly change our view that direct intervention to dampen yen strength remains unlikely in the near-term." The dollar, which hit an 18-month low against the yen last week JPY=, was up almost half a percent in morning trade in London at 107.60 yen. That is down from 123 yen last December. WILD FIRE World oil prices gained for a third straight day on worries over problems with supplies due to devastating wildfires in Canada.The recovery in the value of crude this year has tended to be a positive for stock markets, encouraging hopes that consumer prices will also start rising again, easing the burden of debts weighing on companies and governments and allowing more investment.Against that is the impact on oil companies' operations of shutdowns caused by the fires. Dealers said that European-listed oil majors were shielded by the impact being chiefly on Canadian operations, with BP (BP.L) shares up 0.2 percent. German industrial orders also offered some reason for optimism, rising more than expected and by the steepest rate in nine months, due to strong foreign demand especially from countries outside the euro zone.The pan-European FTSE 300 index .FTEU3, Germany's DAX .GDAXI and France's CAC .FCHI all rose by more than 1 percent.

Arizona joins rest of U.S. in adding health insurance program for children

2016-05-08 05:24:06

PHOENIX Arizona's governor signed into law on Friday a bitterly contested proposal that will restore a federal health insurance program for children from low-income families, making it the last of its 49 counterparts to join the program.Arizona opted out of the federal Children's Health Insurance Program in 2010 over cost concerns as it grappled with a budget crunch. The program aims to help working families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid health care coverage for the poor, but who cannot afford private health insurance.To qualify for KidsCare, as it's known in Arizona, a family of four must earn between $33,000 and $49,000 annually. It is estimated to serve about 30,000 children in Arizona. Arizona's Republican governor, Doug Ducey, signed the legislation over fierce objections from the top two lawmakers in his own party a matter of hours after it cleared the Republican-led legislature.The debate over the program was among the most rancorous of the legislative session and focused on both costs and the fact that the measure was tacked on to a virtually unrelated school voucher bill, prompting concerns that the law would face a legal challenge. Backers said the program is desperately needed to close a gap in affordable health insurance options and to ensure that children are able to grow up healthy. Even though the state is no longer required under the program to contribute funds in exchange for federal dollars, as was the case in 2010, opponents argued that Arizona citizens are still indirectly financing the program by paying for the program through federal taxes. Arizona's House of Representatives approved the measure on Thursday following heated debate. The law could take effect as early as August. (Reporting by David Schwartz in Phoenix, Arizona; Editing by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle)

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