The Obama administration late Wednesday said Puerto Rico should begin to spray for mosquitoes, citing multiple studies that show the Zika virus is “spreading rapidly” and could infect thousands of vulnerable residents on the island territory.
Puerto Rico has recorded nearly 2,000 cases of Zika through bites from the Aedes mosquitoes that carry the disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and the Environmental Protection Agency said the island should ramp up its mosquito-control efforts to stave off potential birth defects linked to the disease.
“Multiple independent data sources indicate that at current trends, thousands of pregnant women in Puerto Rico will catch Zika,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said. “The continental United States has been using aerial spraying for decades to reduce mosquito populations, and we urge the people of Puerto Rico to consider using the same proven and safe tactic.”
Puerto Rico and two other territories — American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands — are the only places in the U.S. that have recorded locally transmitted cases of Zika, though scientists fear the virus could spread through bug bites on the mainland as mosquito season ramps up.
As it stands, the states and D.C. have recorded more than 900 travel-related cases of Zika.
The administration said aerial spraying is a proven method to kill mosquitoes, though it told Puerto Rico not to use pyrethroid insecticides, because bugs on the island are resistant to it.
The CDC said it will help the island set up the type of mosquito-control unit that vulnerable parts of the states have, while spending $500,000 to help Puerto Ricans dispose of old tires where mosquitoes breed.
The governmental warning to Puerto Rico comes as the Senate quarrels over a GOP-drafted plan to combat Zika at home and abroad.
Senate Democrats launched a filibuster last week to stop the $1.1 billion plan, saying it’s not enough money, has too many strings attached and undercuts environmental protections in a rush to eradicate virus-carrying mosquitos.
They want Republican leaders to go back and rewrite the measure to allow Zika money to go to Planned Parenthood, but GOP leaders say they’re done negotiating.
Senate Democrats said Wednesday they have no intention of backing down in a redo vote in the coming days, leaving the effort in limbo as Congress prepares to skip town next week for a lengthy summer recess.