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US gears up to fight Zika, Obama calls for vaccine development

Barack Obama

Washington : The US is gearing up to fight the dangerous Zika virus as President Barack Obama calls for development of vaccines and therapeutics to fight the deadly mosquito-born infection.

The move comes as Zika virus, which is linked to a birth defect where babies are born with smaller heads which limits brain growth, has spread to countries in the region.

One case of the Zika virus has been identified in Arkansas and another in Virginia, Center for Disease Control (CDC) said, adding that one case was also confirmed in a girl in California, but she has since recovered.

As of now there is no vaccine to prevent Zika. The best way to prevent diseases spread by mosquitoes is to avoid being bitten, it said.

“The President is himself concerned about it. That’s why he convened a meeting here at the White House yesterday to discuss it,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said.

“In the days ahead you’ll see more of a conspicuous, concerted effort on the part of US government to communicate with the American people about the risks of this virus and the steps that they can take to protect themselves,” Earnest said, a day after Obama held a meeting to review preparedness for the virus.

In his meeting with senior health official and National Security team, Obama emphasised 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.

While Ebola is a deadly disease, Earnest said the Zika virus poses a different set of risks that are most serious for pregnant women.

“That explains the kind of reaction you’ve seen from the federal government and the kind of guidance that the CDC has shared with Americans who are considering travel to a variety of tropical areas in the Western Hemisphere,” he said.

In a statement early this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned pregnant woman from travelling to countries hit by Zika Virus. Prior to 2015, Zika virus outbreaks have occurred in areas of Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands.

CDC said no locally transmitted Zika cases have been reported in the continental US, but cases have been reported in returning travelers. Locally transmitted Zika virus has been reported in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

With the recent outbreaks, the number of Zika cases among travelers visiting or returning to the US will likely increase, it said.

CDC said Zika is a disease caused by Zika virus that is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes).

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