- The Washington Times - Friday, May 20, 2016

The U.S. is monitoring nearly 300 pregnant women with likely Zika infection, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday, as President Obama urged Congress to “get moving” on funds to combat a serious outbreak.

Monitors are watching 157 pregnant women in the states and 122 women in Puerto Rico and other territories, for 279 total.

Zika is mosquito-borne illness that causes serious birth defects such as microcephaly, in which infants are born with abnormally small heads, and scientists are studying its ties to a syndrome that causes paralysis.

“We think that there may be other neurological disorders that are caused as a consequence of Zika, and we don’t know all of the potential effects. We do know that they are serious,” Mr. Obama said Friday after a meeting with his top health officials.

Mr. Obama heaped pressure on Congress to take up his $1.9 billion to plan to combat Zika, saying failure to deal with it now will result in “bigger problems on the back end,” though GOP leaders have crafted plans that offer far less than what he requested.

Recent outbreaks in Brazil and other Latin Americans countries coincided with a significant spike in cases of microcephaly, and scientists fear that Aedes mosquitoes will spread the virus across the U.S. mainland once temperatures rise and insect populations flourish.

“Mosquitoes don’t go through Customs,” Mr. Obama said.

The CDC’s figures on pregnant women with possible infection seemed to double overnight, but only because its reporting methods had changed.

Officials said they will now keep tabs on women with any lab evidence of Zika infection — for instance, they have viral particles in them or had an immune reaction — and not just those who’ve shown symptoms or fetal complications.

“Monitoring all pregnant women with possible Zika virus infection during pregnancy, whether asymptomatic or symptomatic, will enhance understanding of possible adverse outcomes and allow better estimates of the number of pregnancies at risk for adverse outcomes,” the CDC scientists wrote in their report. “This information will assist health care providers who counsel pregnant women and will facilitate planning services for affected families.”

The CDC said it will begin reporting the numbers on a weekly basis and separate them into two systems — the U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry and the Zika Active Pregnancy Surveillance System in Puerto Rico.

The actual outcomes of the pregnancies will be described in future reports, as scientists grapple with just how damaging the virus is to fetal development.

All told, the CDC has recorded 544 travel-related cases of Zika in the states and D.C., a handful of them through sexual transmission. The territories have reported 832 cases of locally acquired Zika, most of them in Puerto Rico.

Though Mr. Obama wants nearly $2 billion in emergency spending to gird for an outbreak this summer, the House passed a bill this week that redirects $622 million from the Ebola fight in West Africa and other health programs to deal with Zika.

The Senate approved a bipartisan plan that would provide $1.1 billion in emergency spending that isn’t paid for through cuts elsewhere in the federal budget.

The chambers say they will reconcile their versions, though the White House is still pushing for $1.9 billion.

“We didn’t just choose the $1.9 billion from the top of our heads,” Mr. Obama said. “This was based on public health assessments of all the work that needs to be done.”

Also Friday, the World Health Organization said the strain of Zika circulating on the Cape Verde islands off the northwest coast of Africa matches the one in the Americas and was likely imported from Brazil.

“The findings are of concern because it is further proof that the outbreak is spreading beyond South America and is on the doorstep of Africa. This information will help African countries to re-evaluate their level of risk and adapt and increase their levels of preparedness,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa.

The agency urged African countries to gird for the disease by informing pregnant women of its dangers and promoting steps to avoid sexual transmission and mosquito bites.

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