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White House Asks Congress for $1.8 billion to Fund Zika Research

Update Date: Feb 08, 2016 10:42 AM EST

President Barack Obama is asking Congress to set aside more than $1.8 billion to fund research and programs related to the Zika virus, the White House said on Monday.

"We are going to be putting up a legislative proposal to Congress to resource both the research on vaccines and diagnostics but also helping in terms of public health systems," President Obama said in an interview with CBS News. "But there shouldn't be panic on this. This is not something where people are going to die from it. It is something we have to take seriously."

According to the White House, the money would be given to the U.S. State Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Agency for International Development and smaller groups, who are heading different programs that were created to handle the Zika virus, which is transmitted via the aedes aegypti mosquito.

These programs include conducting research for a vaccine, finding a way to contain the mosquito population, increasing accessibility to doctors, especially for low-income pregnant women, and educating the public about the risks involved with Zika.

Countries in the Americas have been working hard to better understand the Zika virus after strong evidence suggested that it could be linked to microcephaly, a birth defect that occurs when an infant is born with an abnormally small head and has incomplete brain development.

In Brazil, where the virus has become very common over the past months, there have been more than 4,000 suspected cases of microcephaly. The Pan American Health Organization reported that the virus has been confirmed in 26 countries and territories within the Americas. The World Health Organization (WHO) has already declared Zika a public health emergency.

Zika has not been contracted on U.S. soil. So far, the virus has been confirmed in Americans who had traveled to a Zika region. In one case, a Texan resident was believed to have contracted the virus after having sex with a person who was infected abroad.

The White House did warn that as warmer weather approaches, Zika could become a problem within the states.

"As spring and summer approach, bringing with them larger and more active mosquito populations, we must be fully prepared to mitigate and quickly address local transmission within the continental U.S., particularly in the Southern United States," the White House said reported by the Washington Times.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stressed the importance for pregnant women and women who plan on getting pregnant to go and see their doctor if they might have been exposed to the virus. The CDC has also issued travel and safe sex guidelines.

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