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Zika Update: U.S. Declares Public Health Emergency in Puerto Rico Due to Zika

Aug 16, 2016 05:43 AM EDT
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The U.S. government on Friday declared a public health emergency in Puerto Rico over the Zika epidemic.

Puerto Rico has recorded 10,690 Zika cases to date, including 1,035 infected pregnant women. According to the Puerto Rico department of health, two people have died from complications caused by the virus while 90 were hospitalized, CNN reports.

However, health authorities believe that the number of Zika cases could be much higher as most infected people do not show symptoms and might not seek treatment.

With the declaration, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will grant access to emergency funds and other resources that could help the U.S. territory fight the outbreak.

"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 declaration came hours after Puerto Rico has reported 1,914 new cases in the past week.

Health officials in Puerto Rico are also concerned about the severe birth defects caused by the virus. The first case of Zika-related microcephaly in Puerto Rico was reported in May, which involved a dead fetus turned over to health authorities by an unidentified woman. Since then, no cases of Zika-related birth defects have been reported.

"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," Alejandro Garcia Padilla, governor of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, said in a statement.

The mosquito-borne virus is known to cause microcephaly and other brain abnormalities in newborns and is associated with miscarriage, stillbirths and neurological problems.

In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned officials that Puerto Rico could see dozens, or possibly hundreds of infants born with microcephaly in the months to come. 

Apart from local mosquito-borne transmission, the Zika virus can also be transmitted through sexual contact.  

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