Zika: HHS Secretary supports call for more funding to combat outbreak

Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell, just back from a two-day trip to Puerto Rico, says its imperative that Congress approve the White House administration's request for an additional $1.9 billion in supplemental funding to combat the Zika virus. 

Burwell shared the results of her visit to Puerto Rico and provided an update on strategies to combat the spread of the Zika virus in a conference call with reporters on Thursday.

Those funds are necessary, she said, to support the four main strategies officials have devised to the tackle the virus in both Puerto Rico and the continental U.S.: controlling vector mosquitos, educating pregnant women, offering access to contraceptives and testing the blood supply for the virus. "In terms of our ability to do all of those things, we need the additional funds," she said.

During her trip, Burwell met with a group of pregnant Puerto Rican women to discuss the outbreak and also with healthcare workers who are working to improve tests for the virus. HHS awarded $5 million to 20 health centers in Puerto Rico to assist these and other efforts to tackle Zika.

About 475 cases of the virus have been reported to date in Puerto Rico, Burwell said, and 48 of those are in pregnant women, who are of significant concern as Zika has been linked to microcephaly in newborns. Burwell said officials are developing plans for a potential birth registry for babies born from infected mothers to better track the impact of the virus on infants.

The more officials learn about Zika, the scarier it becomes, especially as the United States gears for outbreaks of the virus as summer approaches. Hospitals are taking steps to prepare for possible cases and earlier this week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines to protect healthcare workers from possible exposure.

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