By June or July, federal health officials expect the continental
United States will see its first locally transmitted cases of the
Zika virus, which has been linked to thousands of suspected cases of
microcephaly, a rare birth defect, in Brazil.
The White House is inviting officials involved in mosquito control
and public health to an April 1 summit at the Atlanta headquarters
of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to talk about
how best to track and control the spread of the virus, and respond
when people are affected.
"The best-case scenario here is that we could either limit local
transmission, or get ahead of it and contain it as soon as
possible," said Amy Pope, the deputy assistant for homeland security
for President Barack Obama, in an interview.
While most people bitten by an infected insect experience only mild
illness, pregnant women need to take extra precautions, the CDC has
said. Scientists are also studying a potential link between Zika and
Guillain-Barre, a rare neurological disorder that can cause
More than a dozen suspected cases of sexual transmission, and one
case of suspected transmission through a blood transfusion have
raised questions about other ways that Zika may spread.
The CDC had originally expected localized outbreaks of zika in some
southern states through local transmission, and said widespread use
of air conditioning, window screens and regular garbage collection
would mitigate the risk.
"We've had surprises," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, the CDC's principal
deputy director, noting the suspected cases of sexual transmission
may prompt the agency to reassess its projections.
"We're in a posture of knowing that time is precious and
collaboration is essential," Schuchat said in the interview.
'TIME IS PRECIOUS'
The outbreak has already affected large parts of Latin America and
the Caribbean. The World Health Organization estimates Zika could
eventually affect as many as 4 million people in the Americas.
There have already been more than 100 cases in Puerto Rico, with
thousands more expected this year, Schuchat said.
"We are extremely concerned about Puerto Rico," she said.
[to top of second column]
CDC Director Thomas Frieden on Monday will make his first trip to
the island territory since the outbreak to spend a few days talking
with government officials and CDC workers about the spread, she
Much remains unknown about Zika, including whether the virus
actually causes microcephaly in babies, a condition defined by
unusually small heads that can result in developmental problems.
Brazil said it has confirmed more than 640 cases of microcephaly,
and considers most of them to be related to Zika infections in the
mothers. Brazil is investigating more than 4,200 additional
suspected cases of microcephaly.
The species of mosquito that carries Zika likely will begin to
emerge in the continental United States in April or May.
"It's hardy. It lives in dark corners. It's resilient," Pope said,
noting communities across the country have different approaches to
controlling the insect.
"While individual communities may have their own plans, there's no
coordinated planning at this point, and we think that needs to
happen," she said.
Obama has asked the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress for more
than $1.8 billion in emergency funding to fight the virus, but
several top lawmakers have balked, saying he should first draw from
other health funding.
"If we don't get funding until after we see transmission in the
United States, until after we see children born with birth defects,
then we're well behind the curve," Pope said.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Andrew Hay)
[© 2016 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2016 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.