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Obama Administration Declares Public Health Emergency In Puerto Rico Over Zika Virus

PR zika virus

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration declared a public health emergency in Puerto Rico on Friday because of the Zika virus, sending a message to the island that the virus, which has infected more than 10,000 residents, should be taken seriously.

The warning came more than six months after the World Health Organization declared the virus, and the birth defects it can cause, a global health emergency, and it was not clear if the declaration would have much effect.
Puerto Rico has been grappling with the problem for months, but infections are still spreading; many residents are not protecting themselves against mosquito bites because they believe the threat is exaggerated.
The reason for the delay was unclear. In times of health emergencies, local officials are often reluctant to sound an alarm, for fear of harming tourism.
 Even so, the virus has so infested the island that on Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services issued its warning. A spokeswoman for the department said the emergency was declared “because of the gravity of the situation.”

There have been 10,690 cases of Zika confirmed in Puerto Rico, including infections in 1,035 pregnant women. Dozens more are infected every day. Cases of Zika infection are expected to keep rising through October, and by year’s end, a quarter of the island’s population of 3.5 million will have been exposed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The emergency status will give local health officials more tools to battle the virus, including the ability to reassign health workers to help fight Zika, and the chance for funding to hire and train unemployed workers to help fight the mosquitoes that carry the virus.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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