President Barack Obama plans to ask Congress for about $1.8 billion in emergency funding to prepare for and fight the Zika virus both here in the U.S and internationally.

The Zika virus is primarily spread by Aedes mosquitoes, and is linked to birth detects and other negative health outcomes. Pregnant women are at the greatest risk since it appears infection with the virus can cause babies to be born with a defect called microcephaly, an abnormally shrunken head that affects brain development. Scientists are investigating the suspected causal relationship between the virus and the birth defect.

According to the White House, the government has been monitoring the virus, alerting health care providers and the public about the threat, working to combat it by providing public health labs with diagnostic tests, and detecting and reporting cases domestically and internationally.

The World Health Organization has declared an international health emergency regarding the virus, with the Pan American Health Organization reporting 26 countries and territories in the Americas have Zika transmission cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report 50 confirmed cases of Zika in the U.S. from December 2015 to Feb. 5.

In an interview today, President Obama announced his plans to ask for funding for more resources to combat the virus. According to the White House, the money would go to mosquito control, vaccine research and diagnostics development, education, improved and expanding diagnostic testing, improving health services for low-income pregnant women, and helping other countries better fight and control transmission.

About $250 million of the funding would go to increase Puerto Rico's Medicaid Federal Medical Assistance Percentage to help at-risk pregnant women and children with microcephaly, with $335 million going to help fight the virus in South America, Central America and the Caribbean. About $828 million would go to the CDC for increased prevention and response strategies and for research into the link between Zika virus infections and the birth defect microcephaly.

As of now, there are no quick tests available for health care providers to detect the Zika virus.

"There is much that we do not yet know about Zika and its relationship to the poor health outcomes that are being reported in Zika-affected areas," the White House said. "We must work aggressively to investigate these outbreaks, and mitigate, to the best extent possible, the spread of the virus. Congressional action on the Administration's request will accelerate our ability to prevent, detect and respond to the Zika virus and bolster our ability to reduce the potential for future infectious disease outbreaks."

Congress will be briefed and review the funding request this week.

Source: White

Photo: Day Donaldson | Flickr

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