Federal health officials said in a joint conference today the mosquitoes species that spread the Zika virus are now in 30 states. This is more than double the 12 states they had been found previously. With mosquito season coming, they stressed the immediate importance of prevention and research.
Dr. Anne Schuchat, Principal Deputy Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters that the range of the Aedes mosquito species which can spread the virus is far larger than previously thought and the disease's effects are more damaging than initial medical studies suggested.
"We continue to be learning pretty much everyday and most of what we're learning is not reassuring," Schuchat said. The virus is, "linked to a broader set of complications in pregnancy."
The mosquito-borne Zika virus usually results in mild symptoms including fever, rash and fatigue, but it has been connected with a birth defect called microcephaly in Brazil. New studies have suggested that this birth defect is just one of multiple neurological defects that can occur when a fetus is exposed to the virus. Current strains of the virus have been found to specifically target and destroy brain and nervous system tissue.
The CDC and NIH made the joint statement, today at the White House, about the range of current research efforts and the funding necessary to conduct broader Zika virus studies.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institute of Health, gave updates to reporters on the fight against the Zika outbreak and implored Congress to release funds to fight the disease. Fauci said health officials were still without enough funds to proportionally respond to potential outbreaks.
"I don't have what I need right now, what I've done is take money from other areas of non-Zika research to start," Fauci told reporters.
"We are going full blast by drawing money from other areas," he said, noting that both the CDC and NIH have taken emergency measures, using funds from areas like Ebola research in order to tackle the urgent research needed for Zika. He added that those areas also need to continue research and that Zika will need much more. "When the president asked for $1.9 billion, we needed $1.9 billion."
Schuchat said health officials are extremely concerned about residents in Puerto Rico where they could see more than 100,000 cases of the disease, with hundreds of pregnancies affected by the disease. Zika prevention kits -- which include repellant, screens, condoms and information -- are being distributed to thousands of women in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and other areas where the virus transmission is ongoing.
"We really are trying to protect every pregnancy we can right now," Schuchat told reporters.
Schuchat said based on outbreaks of similar diseases including dengue virus and chikungunya, they do not expect widespread outbreak of Zika virus in the U.S.