White House convenes summit on Zika virus

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The White House convened a summit at theCenters for Disease Control and Prevention Friday about how to fight the Zika virus, urging state, local and national officials to act now to prevent and control the disease.

“If we wait until we see widespread transmission in the United States, if we wait until the public is panicking because they’re seeing babies born with birth defects, we will have waited too late,” said Amy Pope, the White House deputy homeland security adviser and deputy assistant to President Barack Obama.

The nation’s highest priority should be to protect pregnant women and their fetuses, Pope said. The Zika virus is now strongly linked to a variety of birth defects, including microcephaly, in which babies are born with abnormally small heads.

“We do know the impact on pregnant women can be devastating,” Pope said. “That has to be our number one priority.”

Zika is the only mosquito-borne virus known to cause birth defects, said CDC directorThomas Frieden, who noted that it has been more than 50 years since scientists identified any virus that can cause harm fetuses.

“This is an unprecedented situation,” Frieden said.

Frieden recommended that every state name a Zika coordinator. Some members of Congress have called on Obama to name a national Zika czar, as well.

 

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