WIKIMEDIA, CDCThe US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Friday (August 12) declared a public health emergency in Puerto Rico following reports that Zika virus has spread rapidly through the island over the summer. Health officials have thus far confirmed 10,690 Zika cases in Puerto Rico, noting that the actual number of infections is likely higher.
Zika virus can cause microcephaly, a severe birth defect, and more than 1,000 pregnant women are among those infected in Puerto Rico.
“We are working closely with Puerto Rican officials to pursue solutions to fight the virus in Puerto Rico with a focus on protecting pregnant women,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said in the statement.
The declaration allows Puerto Rico to apply for certain federal funds to help suppress mosquito populations, which transmit the disease, and to strengthen public health outreach. The move comes after Congress this summer declined to send $1.1 billion in emergency funds to the island territory, The New York Times reported.
The governor of Puerto Rico, Alejandro García Padilla, expressed the urgency of the outbreak, saying in a statement that “the threat of Zika to future generations of Puerto Ricans is evident, and I feel a responsibility to do everything that is within my reach to make sure we fight the spread of the virus.”