- The Washington Times - Friday, August 12, 2016

The Obama administration said Friday the rapid spread of Zika virus in Puerto Rico is a public health emergency because it poses a “significant threat” to pregnant women on the island territory and their unborn children.

Puerto Rico has confirmed more than 10,690 cases, including more than a thousand in pregnant women, of Zika virus through mosquito bite.

The disease can cause serious birth defects in babies born to infected mothers and has been linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome, which can cause paralysis.

The Health and Human Services Department’s declaration allows Puerto Rico to apply for funding to hire and train workers to assist in mosquito-control efforts and request additional health officers to assist in the island’s response.

“This emergency declaration allows us to provide additional support to the Puerto Rican government and reminds us of the importance of pregnant women, women of childbearing age, and their partners taking additional steps to protect themselves and their families from Zika,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said.

While the mounting tally of Zika infections by mosquito bite in Miami is drawing attention on the U.S. mainland, Puerto Rico has been steeped in local transmission for months.

During a visit this week, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said transmission on Puerto Rico is so rapid that 25 percent of the island could be infected with Zika by year’s end.

Earlier this summer, the Centers for Disease Control urged Puerto Rico to begin spraying for mosquitos from the air.

The administration also disbursed money to help the island dispose of old tires, where disease-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitos like to breed.

HHS’s declaration comes one day after Mrs. Burwell said she planned to siphon $81 million from existing research accounts and health funds to continue fighting Zika, as congressional Republicans and Democrats remained deadlocked over additional money to combat the disease. Lawmakers won’t return to Capitol Hill from their summer recess until September.

Mrs. Burwell said she will move $34 million to the National Institute of Health to maintain government research into a Zika vaccine, while shifting $47 million to a biomedical authority that funds parallel efforts in the private sector.

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