The United States has declared a public health emergency in the American territory of Puerto Rico amid the rising number of Zika infections in the Caribbean island.
The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said in a statement Friday that the rapid and widespread transmission of the Zika virus threatens the health of infected pregnant women and their babies.
The US territory of about 3.5 million people has recorded nearly 11,000 cases of Zika, including 1,035 pregnant women, although the actual number of infections with the mosquito-borne virus is likely higher, the HHS said.
“This administration is committed to meeting the Zika outbreak in Puerto Rico with the necessary urgency,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said in a statement.
The public health emergency declaration will allow Puerto Rico to apply for federal funding and hire workers to combat the virus, as well as for outreach and education efforts.
“The threat of Zika to future generations of Puerto Ricans is evident, and I feel a responsibility to do everything that is within my reach to make sure we fight the spread of the virus,” Puerto Rico Governor Garcia Padilla said in a statement.
Zika was first detected last year in Brazil, where it has taken its heaviest toll so far, and has spread rapidly through Latin America and the Caribbean.
The United States reported its first locally transmitted Zika virus in Florida in July. On Friday, the state said three more people had become infected by local mosquitoes, bringing the total of infections to 28.
The virus is primarily spread by mosquitoes, but can also be transmitted by sexual contact, prompting publicp health officials to advise that people who have been infected refrain from unprotected sex for several months.
Zika can cause microcephaly, a birth defect marked by abnormally small head size and developmental problems in babies.