The Obama administration is looking to ease public fears over the Zika virus as it becomes increasingly likely that the mosquito-borne disease will spread to the U.S.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Wednesday that federal officials are planning a "conspicuous, concerted effort" to communicate the risks of the disease, making clear that it poses a far different — and less severe — threat than the recent Ebola epidemic.
While both viruses had a rapid spread, the Ebola virus can be fatal for anyone who becomes infected, while the Zika virus is most dangerous to women who are pregnant. Healthy, non-pregnant adults who contract the Zika virus will encounter symptoms like a "mild form of dengue fever," Earnest said.
"Certainly the risk to pregnant women and women who may become pregnant is serious. But it's also important for people to understand, if you're a man, or you're not pregnant, that the impact of the virus is relatively mild," Earnest said. "We want to make sure people are properly educated about the risks of this virus."
The outreach efforts on the Zika virus could help the administration avoid the panic caused by the Ebola virus's spread into the U.S. in fall 2014. That disease, which is easily spread through human contact, has killed more than 11,000 people, nearly all in three small West African nations.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has led the response to Zika, has issued travel warnings to about 25 countries where Zika virus is prominent, including Mexico and Jamaica. The CDC has added to that list three times, including earlier this week.
President Obama was briefed
by health officials from the CDC and other agencies at the White House late Tuesday. After that meeting, Obama called for more research on diagnostic testing, vaccines and therapeutics.
Earnest acknowledged that additional funding for the Zika response "might be necessary," but said no requests have been made. He added that the president is unlikely to appoint a "Zika czar" to lead the efforts, as he had done to combat Ebola in fall 2014.