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Congress must do more to stop dangerous threat of Zika

Aedes aegypti mosquito larvae hatch in a laboratory

Aedes aegypti mosquito larvae hatch in a laboratory of El Salvador Ministry of Health in San Salvador on Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016. The mosquito is known to carry the Zika virus, which has caused brain malformation in newborns. Credit: AFP-Getty Images / Marvin Recinos

News about the Zika virus has been spreading quickly. So has fear.

Fortunately, many levels of government are responding to the threat posed by the virus, which causes microcephaly and other severe fetal brain defects. It can be transmitted by a mosquito bite or via semen. Both the state and New York City have adopted plans that include testing, prevention and mosquito eradication. Nassau and Suffolk counties are working with the state on strategies to be released shortly.

Now the federal government must step up. The White House transferred $510 million allocated for Ebola to fight Zika, as demanded by Republican lawmakers, but the amount is insufficient. Congress should act on President Barack Obama’s request for $1.9 billion for important research on a vaccine, among other needed initiatives.

Nearly 900 cases have been reported in the United States and its territories, 81 involving pregnant women. More than half were infected in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and American Samoa, the others while traveling in Zika-stricken countries such as Brazil. Accounts of canceled or altered travel plans are growing, and travel advisories are in place. Now the CDC is advising companies in areas with Zika transmission to allow pregnant women, women planning to become pregnant, and the male partners of such women to work indoors. The mosquito that transmits Zika ranges up to the southern United States but a cousin is found locally. Testing will determine whether it, too, carries Zika.

Zika can be devastating for pregnant women and their babies. The urgency of our government response must match the urgency of the threat to our families. — The editorial board