Federal health officials are urging for more money to control mosquitoes, and develop vaccines and treatments after recent findings suggest the Zika virus is more serious than anticipated.
“Everything we look at with this virus seems to be a bit scarier than we initially thought,” Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said at a White House briefing on April 11.
Although the virus is predominately contained in Latin America and the Caribbean, health experts warn that the continental U.S. “absolutely needs to be ready” in case of an outbreak.
The main area for concern: pregnant women.
Zika was originally not considered cause for much concern, and was thought to cause light symptoms at its worst—but reports have shown that pregnant women suffering from Zika have given birth to babies with unusually small heads.
This birth defect, known as microcephaly, is a signal of underlying brain damage.
The virus has also been linked to miscarriages, eye problems, stillbirths and other complications throughout the entire length of the pregnancy, specifically attacking developing brain cells.
Fetuses aren’t the only ones who suffer.
There are potentially serious side effects of the virus in adults; one that can lead to paralysis, another causing brain inflammation similar to multiple sclerosis.
The CDC is warning pregnant women, or women who plan to conceive, to avoid areas of travel in which the Zika virus is prevalent. Because the disease can also be spread through intercourse, the CDC is urging men who’ve visited affected areas to use condoms with their pregnant partners or to avoid sex all together until the baby is born.
So far, the CDC claims 300 travel-related cases of the virus have hit the United States, asking travelers to make sure they’re preventing the U.S. spread of Zika by avoiding mosquito contact after they’ve come home from virus-ridden areas.
Researchers are constantly working on vaccines for the virus—15 of 62 screenings have shown signs of combatting the virus, but it is unclear if they’ll be as effective as medication.
$589 million that was left over from the efforts against Ebola is being allocated to fight Zika by the US.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.