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President Obama Calls for more Research on Zika as the Virus Continues to Spread

Update Date: Jan 27, 2016 09:30 AM EST

U.S President Barack Obama is calling for more research on how to test and treat the mosquito-borne Zika virus that is spreading throughout the Americas.

"The president emphasized the need to accelerate research efforts to make available better diagnostic tests, to develop vaccines and therapeutics, and to ensure that all Americans have information about the Zika virus and steps they can take to better protect themselves from infection," the White House said in a statement Tuesday.

About 60 percent of the U.S. population could be exposed to the virus if it comes to the states during the warmer months, putting pregnant women and women trying to get pregnant at risk. Zika has been linked to a birth defect called microcephaly, which occurs when an infant is born with an abnormally small head.

In Brazil, authorities have seen a drastic increase in the number of cases of microcephaly. In 2015, there were more 3,000 confirmed cases whereas in 2014, the total was 150. Depending on how severe the case of microcephaly is, it can lead several different symptoms, such as mental retardation, seizures, hearing loss and even death. There is no cure for the condition.

U.S. health officials are increasing their efforts to further analyze the relationship between Zika and microcephaly. Research will also include potentially creating a vaccine.

"This is not going to be overnight," Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health said in an interview Tuesday, reported by FOX News.

Vaccines can take up to years to develop.

Zika is considered a mild infection that causes symptoms such as a mild fever and rash. In about 80 percent of the cases, there will be little to no symptoms present, which can make it difficult for people to know that they are sick. Infected people are recommended to rest and stay hydrated but there is no actual treatment for it.

The virus is expected to spread to all countries in the Americas with the exception of Canada and Chile, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

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