US Declares Health Emergency Over Zika Virus in Puerto Rico

The US government today declared a public health emergency in Puerto Rico as a result of a Zika virus epidemic.

This declaration of public health emergency actively facilitates the federal government to allow grants, access emergency funds and temporarily appoint personnel where needed, among other things.

“This administration is committed to meeting the Zika outbreak in Puerto Rico with the necessary urgency,” Sylvia Burwell, health and human services secretary, said in a statement. Burwell travelled to the US territory in late April to evaluate its response to the outbreak.

The announcement came just hours after Puerto Rico reported 1,914 new cases in the past week, for a total of 10,690 since the first one was reported in December.

The mosquito-borne virus has infected 1,035 pregnant women, which is a concern to authorities because Zika has been tied to a severe birth defect known as microcephaly.

More than 100 pregnant women infected with Zika in Puerto Rico who have given birth have had healthy babies, officials said.

Puerto Rico reported the first microcephaly case acquired on US soil in May, involving a dead foetus that a woman turned over to health authorities.

Since then no microcephaly cases have been reported, but federal officials said it is only a matter of time.

Puerto Rico Govenor Alejandro Garcia Padilla said he had asked federal officials to declare a public health emergency and thanked them for their support. “Zika poses a hidden threat to future generations of Puerto Ricans, and I feel the responsibility to do everything in my power to fight the spread of it,” he said.


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