By Timothy Gardner and Jeff Mason 04/11/2016 08:05 pm ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Top health officials expressed heightened concern on Monday about the threat posed to the United States by the Zika virus, saying the mosquito that spreads it is now present in about 30 states and hundreds of thousands of infections could appear in Puerto Rico.
At a White House briefing, they stepped up pressure on the Republican-led Congress to pass approximately $1.9 billion in emergency funding for Zika preparedness that the Obama administration requested in February.
“Everything we look at with this virus seems to be a bit scarier than we initially thought,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, a deputy director at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“And so while we absolutely hope we don’t see widespread local transmission in the continental U.S., we need the states to be ready for that,” Schuchat added.
Zika, linked to numerous cases of the birth defect microcephaly in Brazil, is spreading rapidly in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The White House said last week in the absence of the emergency funds it will redirect $589 million, mostly from money already provided by Congress to tackle the Ebola virus, to prepare forZika before it begins to emerge in the continental United States as the weather warms.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said if Congress does not provide emergency Zika funding, U.S. officials likely would be forced to redirect money currently dedicated for research into malaria, tuberculosis and a universal flu vaccine.
“I don’t have what I need right now,” Fauci said.
Hopefully the funding crimp will never reach a point where the stopgap money runs out, but if it does, he said, “we’ll have to start raiding other accounts, and very important research in other diseases is going to suffer, and suffer badly.” more