The U.S. government has declared a public health emergency in Puerto Rico because of the Zika virus, which has infected at least 10,690 residents including 1,035 pregnant women. The mosquito-borne virus can cause severe birth defects.
Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said the emergency status will allow for additional support to the Puerto Rican government, although details were slim.
Puerto Rico can apply for federal funding to hire workers to help with mosquito control and public health education and reassign staff from other areas of public health to the Zika response.
"This administration is committed to meeting the Zika outbreak in Puerto Rico with the necessary urgency," Burwell said in a statement. “As the first virus that can be transmitted by mosquitoes known to cause severe birth defects, we are working closely with Puerto Rican officials to pursue solutions to fight the virus in Puerto Rico with a focus on protecting pregnant women and continuing our efforts with jurisdictions throughout the United States to address this public health threat."
Congress has failed to approve President Obama's request for $1.9 billion in funding for the fight against Zika, including research into a vaccine.
The move to support Puerto Rico comes as the number of cases contracted in the continental U.S. has grown to more than two dozen in Florida, all thought to have contracted the virus from mosquitoes in the same north Miami neighborhood.
The virus has been circulating in South America, Central America and the Caribbean for the past year. For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/zika.