UPDATE 2-U.S. declares a Zika public health emergency in Puerto Rico

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon

U.S. Forced To Declare State of Emergency in Puerto Rico Due To Zika Virus

CHICAGO, Aug 12 (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Friday declared a public health emergency in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, saying the rapid and widespread transmission of the Zika virus threatens the health of infected pregnant women and their babies.

The Caribbean island of about 3.5 million people has recorded 10,690 laboratory-confirmed cases of Zika, including 1,035 pregnant women, but the actual number of infections with the mosquito-borne virus is likely higher, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement.

Among U.S. states and territories, Puerto Rico is expected to see the worst of the Zika outbreak due to its tropical climate and a lack of infrastructure for mosquito control. The only local transmission of the virus so far reported in the continental United States has been in South Florida.

The virus can cause microcephaly, a birth defect marked by abnormally small head size and developmental problems in babies. It also can also be spread by sex, prompting public health officials to advise that people who have been infected refrain from unprotected sex for several months.

"This administration is committed to meeting the Zika outbreak in Puerto Rico with the necessary urgency," HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said in a statement.

The public health emergency declaration is a tool for the federal government to provide fresh support to Puerto Rico's government to tackle the outbreak and grants access to certain federal funds.

The last time HHS declared such an emergency was in 2012 in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, which slammed into the New Jersey shore and flooded parts of New York City.

It was the second important step to fight Zika that the federal government has taken in as many days. The administration said on Thursday it had shifted $81 million in funds from other projects to continue work on developing vaccines to fight Zika in the absence of any funding from U.S. lawmakers.

REQUEST FROM THE GOVERNOR

HHS made the declaration at the request of Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro García Padilla. It allows Puerto Rico to apply for funding to hire and train unemployed workers to assist in mosquito control efforts, as well as for outreach and education efforts.

It also allows Puerto Rico to temporarily reassign public health workers to assist in the Zika response.

"The declaration will allow access to more funds, the waiving of certain regulatory procedures to speed response, reassign key personnel, allow temporary personnel appointments, and provide the authority to take necessary actions to combat the outbreak," said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert and senior associate at the UPMC Center for Health Security in Baltimore.

Also on Friday, Florida said three more people had become infected with Zika by local mosquitoes, bringing the total to 28.

Zika was first detected last year in Brazil, where it has taken its heaviest toll so far, and has spread rapidly through Latin America and the Caribbean.

"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," Garcia Padilla said in a statement.

The Obama administration in February requested $1.9 billion to fight Zika, but the Republican-led Congress has approved no money.

A bill providing $1.1 billion was blocked by Democrats after Republicans attached language to stop abortion-provider Planned Parenthood from using that government funding for healthcare services, mainly in U.S. territories like Puerto Rico.

The Republican legislation also would siphon off unused money under Obama's signature 2010 healthcare law to combat Zika. (Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Bernard Orr and Richard Chang)

From the the Zika outbreak in Miami below.

12 PHOTOS
Zika outbreak in Miami-Dade county
See Gallery
Zika outbreak in Miami-Dade county
Miami-Dade County Mosquito Control inspector Sharon Nagel peers into a drain in Miami's Wynwood district to detect any mosquito presence on Saturday, July 30, 2016. A day earlier, Florida Gov. Rick Scott said that the Zika virus is being transmitted by mosquitoes in a one-square-mile area north of downtown Miami. (Marsha Halper/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images)
Miami-Dade County Mosquito Control inspector Sharon Nagel stops to write in her log on Northwest 28th Street in Miami's Wynwood district on Saturday, July 30, 2016. On foot and in her truck, Nagel covered a swath of the district to combat any mosquito presence. A day earlier, Florida Gov. Rick Scott said that the Zika virus is being transmitted by mosquitoes in a one-square-mile area north of downtown Miami. (Marsha Halper/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - JULY 30: Sharon Nagel, a Miami-Dade County mosquito control inspector, walks through the Wynwood neighborhood looking for mosquitos or breeding areas where she kills the mosquitos with larvicide granules or a fogger spraying pesticide as the county fights to control the Zika virus outbreak on July 30, 2016 in Miami, Florida. There have been a reported four individuals that have been infected with the Zika virus by local mosquitoes which makes them the first known cases of the virus being transmitted by mosquitoes in the continental United States. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Diana Ozuna, with her 20-month-old daughter Lianah, lives in Miami's Wynwood district -- an area in which the Zika virus is being transmitted by mosquitoes. On Saturday, July 30, 2016, Ozuna talks about the threat of the virus. She says she takes the threat seriously and applies protective spray on her and her daughter. (Marsha Halper/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images)
Miami-Dade County Mosquito Control inspector Sharon Nagel drops a chemical tablet into a drain that shows signs of mosquitos in Miami's Wynwood district on Saturday, July 30, 2016. A day earlier, Florida Gov. Rick Scott said that the Zika virus is being transmitted by mosquitoes in a one-square-mile area north of downtown Miami. (Marsha Halper/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - JULY 30: Sharon Nagel, a Miami-Dade County mosquito control inspector, walks through the Wynwood neighborhood looking for mosquitos or breeding areas where she kills the mosquitos with larvicide granules or a fogger spraying pesticide as the county fights to control the Zika virus outbreak on July 30, 2016 in Miami, Florida. There have been a reported four individuals that have been infected with the Zika virus by local mosquitoes which makes them the first known cases of the virus being transmitted by mosquitoes in the continental United States. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - JULY 30: Sharon Nagel, a Miami-Dade County mosquito control inspector, walks through the Wynwood neighborhood looking for mosquitos or breeding areas where she kills the mosquitos with larvicide granules or a fogger spraying pesticide as the county fights to control the Zika virus outbreak on July 30, 2016 in Miami, Florida. There have been a reported four individuals that have been infected with the Zika virus by local mosquitoes which makes them the first known cases of the virus being transmitted by mosquitoes in the continental United States. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - JULY 30: Sharon Nagel, a Miami-Dade County mosquito control inspector, walks through the Wynwood neighborhood looking for mosquitos or breeding areas where she kills the mosquitos with larvicide granules or a fogger spraying pesticide as the county fights to control the Zika virus outbreak on July 30, 2016 in Miami, Florida. There have been a reported four individuals that have been infected with the Zika virus by local mosquitoes which makes them the first known cases of the virus being transmitted by mosquitoes in the continental United States. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - JULY 30: Robert Muxo, a Miami-Dade County mosquito control inspector, prepares to use a fogger to spray pesticide to kill mosquitos in the Wynwood neighborhood as the county fights to control the Zika virus outbreak on July 30, 2016 in Miami, Florida. There have been a reported four individuals that have been infected with the Zika virus by local mosquitoes which makes them the first known cases of the virus being transmitted by mosquitoes in the continental United States. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - JULY 30: Robert Muxo, a Miami-Dade County mosquito control inspector, prepares to use a fogger to spray pesticide to kill mosquitos in the Wynwood neighborhood as the county fights to control the Zika virus outbreak on July 30, 2016 in Miami, Florida. There have been a reported four individuals that have been infected with the Zika virus by local mosquitoes which makes them the first known cases of the virus being transmitted by mosquitoes in the continental United States. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - JULY 30: Robert Muxo, a Miami-Dade County mosquito control inspector, uses a fogger to spray pesticide to kill mosquitos in the Wynwood neighborhood as the county fights to control the Zika virus outbreak on July 30, 2016 in Miami, Florida. There have been a reported four individuals that have been infected with the Zika virus by local mosquitoes which makes them the first known cases of the virus being transmitted by mosquitoes in the continental United States. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

More on AOL.com:
Leader of ISIS in Afghanistan killed in US drone strike: Pentagon
Campus rape survivor speaks up about attacker's light sentence
Wounded K-9 officer found alive two days after shooting that killed sheriff's deputy


Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners