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*-- Obama proposes $1.8 billion to fight Zika in U.S. and abroad --*

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama on Monday is expected to propose spending more than $1.8 billion in emergency funding to combat the Zika virus in the United States and internationally.

The Obama administration's request to Congress will "enhance our ongoing efforts to prepare for and respond to the Zika virus" ahead of the spring and summer months, when mosquito populations are larger and more active. At least 26 countries and territories in North and South America have reported local Zika virus transmission.

"While we have not yet seen transmission of the Zika virus by mosquitoes within the continental United States, Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories, warmer areas with Aedes aegpyti mosquito populations are already seeing active transmission," the White House said in a statement. "In addition, some Americans have returned to the continental U.S. from affected countries in South America, Central America, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands with Zika infections."

At least 50 cases of Zika infections have been confirmed in U.S. travelers from December through Friday. The White House hopes to use the new funds to expand mosquito control programs; accelerate vaccine research and diagnostic development; and educate healthcare providers, pregnant women and their partners

The Obama administration also hopes to provide improved health services and support to low-income pregnant women, as well as to enhance the ability of Zika-affected countries to combat mosquitoes and ctonrol transmission.

"There is much that we do not yet know about Zika and its relationship to the poor health outcomes that are being reported in Zika-affected areas," the White House adds. "We must work aggressively to investigate these outbreaks, and mitigate, to the best extent possible, the spread of the virus."

Of the $1.8 billion total, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to receive about $828 million for Zika prevention and response strategies, including increasing research between the Zika virus and the microcephaly birth defect.

About $250 million will be directed toward Puerto Rico's Medicaid program for a year, as its own Medicaid program is capped amid a financial crisis and the island is experiencing ongoing active Zika transmissions.

The U.S. Agency for International Development will receive about $335 million to "support affected countries' ability to control mosquitoes and the transmission of the virus; support maternal health; expand public education on prevention and response; and create new incentives for the development of vaccines and diagnostics."

The epidemic is blamed on the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, which transmits the Zika virus -- along with dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever. Hospitalizations and fatalities are rare, with symptoms such as rash and fever lasting from a few days to one week. The virus was first isolated from a monkey in Uganda's Zika forest in 1947.

The Zika virus also is possibly linked to an epidemic of microcephaly, a developmental defect resulting in a smaller-than-normal head or brain in newborns.


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