NEW YORK/WASHINGTON: Health officials said 279 pregnant women in the United States and U.S. territories have tested positive for Zika infection, prompting a new call from President Barack Obama for more funding to fight the outbreak spreading through the Americas.
Obama wants the U.S. Congress to provide close to $1.9 billion for vaccine development, faster diagnostic tests, and new tools for killing the mosquitoes that carry the virus, which can cause a rare birth defect in newborns and neurological disorders in adults.
“We’ve got to get moving,” Obama told reporters after meeting top health officials in the Oval Office.
“This has to get done over the course of the next several weeks in order for us to be able to provide confidence to the American people that we’re handling this piece of business,” he said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 157 pregnant women in the continental United States and another 122 in U.S. territories, primarily Puerto Rico, had tested positive for the infection.
That’s a jump from its previous report of 48 cases in pregnant women in the continental United States and 65 cases in U.S. territories.
The Senate has pledged $1.1 billion for Zika and the House of Representatives voted to redirect $622.1 million in funding mainly by cutting programs for the Ebola virus. Lawmakers are now faced with hashing out a compromise on a funding bill.
Obama said both plans fell short. The White House has said Obama would veto the House plan.
“If I’m a young family right now, or somebody who’s thinking about starting a family, this is just a piece of insurance that I want to purchase,” Obama said, urging Americans to tell their lawmakers to boost funding.
JUMP IN CDC NUMBERS
U.S. health officials have determined that Zika, which can also be transmitted through unprotected sex with an infected person, can cause microcephaly, a birth defect marked by unusually small head size, and can lead to severe brain abnormalities and developmental problems in babies.
The CDC told reporters on a conference call on Friday that so far fewer than a dozen of the infected pregnant women it has tracked in the United States and Puerto Rico have had miscarriages or babies born with birth defects. Brazil, the country hardest by Zika to date, has confirmed more than 1,300 cases of microcephaly linked to Zika.
CDC officials said the agency will now report on a weekly basis all pregnant women in the United States and its territories who have any laboratory evidence of potential infection, regardless of whether virus symptoms are present, whereas previously its tracking focused on symptomatic cases.
Officials say only about 20 percent of people with Zika display common symptoms, such as fever, rash, joint and muscle pain and red eyes.
The data will be compiled from a pregnancy registry in the United States and a similar surveillance system set up in Puerto Rico, where officials are expecting hundreds of thousands of Zika cases.
Dr. Margaret Honein, chief of the CDC’s birth defects branch, said including asymptomatic cases “casts a broad net to make sure we are monitoring all pregnant women who may be at risk for poor outcomes associated with Zika.”
The decision follows reports of miscarriages and babies born with birth defects to women who had no recollection of having experienced Zika symptoms, she said.