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    Obama Asks Congress for $1.9 Billion to Fight Zika

    Money would go toward mosquito-control programs, vaccine development and tests to better spot the virus

    WebMD News from HealthDay

    By Dennis Thompson

    HealthDay Reporter

    MONDAY, Feb. 22, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- President Barack Obama on Monday asked Congress for $1.9 billion to help stem the spread of the Zika virus.

    The mosquito-borne disease has been linked to -- but not proven to cause -- a severe brain defect in newborns. The birth defect, called microcephaly, results in infants having small heads and often involves brain damage.

    It's believed there have been more than 4,100 suspected or confirmed cases of microcephaly in Brazil, the country where the Zika epidemic began.

    Since it first surfaced last spring, the virus has spread to 30 countries and territories in Latin America and the Caribbean. The World Health Organization now estimates there could be up to 4 million cases of Zika in the Americas in the next year.

    Meeting Monday with the nation's governors, Obama said he hoped to work with them in guarding against an outbreak of the disease in this country.

    Obama said the money he is requesting would be used for research into new vaccines and better diagnostic tools, the Associated Press reported. He added that the money would also go toward more support for Puerto Rico and territories where there are confirmed cases, and to help pay for mosquito-control programs in southern states such as Florida and Texas at risk for the Zika virus.

    Obama also asked for the flexibility to use some of $2.7 million that was approved to fight the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa but was never used. House Republicans have said that would be the best way to fund a fight against Zika, the AP said.

    Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, appeared before a Congressional panel earlier this month to lobby for Zika funding.

    Although first discovered in Uganda in 1947, the Zika virus was not thought to pose serious health risks until last year. In fact, approximately 80 percent of people who become infected never experience symptoms.

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