The U.S. announced Wednesday that it will begin to step up awareness efforts following the first confirmed cases of Zika virus in the country.
“I would anticipate in the days ahead that you'll see more of a conspicuous, concerted effort on the part of the U.S. government to communicate with the American people about the risks of this virus”, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, but added that there are no current plans to create a “Zika Czar” to lead the efforts.
Obama convened a meeting of his health and national security teams one day earlier to discuss the spread of Zika in the Americas.
Originating in Latin America, the mosquito-borne virus causes symptoms in roughly one in five adults, including fever, rash and conjunctivitis.
The American president “emphasized the need to accelerate research efforts to make available better diagnostic tests, to develop vaccines and therapeutics,” during Tuesday’s meeting, according to the White House.
There have been two confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. -- one in Virginia and another in Arkansas. Both individuals had recently returned from travel abroad.
Zika has also been blamed for a recent spike in microcephaly -- a birth defect characterized by unusually small heads and underdeveloped brains in newborns.
Earnest said the U.S. is “primarily concerned” with the link between the virus and the birth defect.
There is currently no vaccine or cure for the virus, which has spread to 21 countries and territories in the Americas, according to the Pan American Health Organization.
The virus is expected to spread to every country where Aedes mosquitoes are known to live, according to the organization.
That includes the U.S. In Brazil, one of the country's hardest hit by the virus, the government plans to deploy some 220,000 troops to go door-to-door to hand out leaflets on how to reduce breeding grounds for the Aedes mosquito.
Since Oct. 22, there have been 3,900 cases of microcephaly suspected of being linked to Zika in Brazil.
The government of El Salvador, meanwhile, has taken the unprecedented step of urging women to avoid getting pregnant for two years.
The Centers for Disease Control has issued a travel warning urging pregnant women to postpone travel to countries where the virus is spreading.
By Michael Hernandez (WASHINGTON)