HHS chief: US Zika cases rise to 450

About 450 people in the United States have been infected with the Zika virus, the White House's top health official told The Hill on Thursday.

The figure, which includes Puerto Rico and the continental U.S., shows an increase of about 90 cases from the department’s latest Zika report about one week ago. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is expected to release updated data later Thursday afternoon.

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Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS) Sylvia Mathews Burwell has put her department into overdrive to halt the spread.

Recently, HHS has focused on outreach to the thousands of college students who will visit Zika-infected destinations on spring break. A total of 69 countries, most in Central or South America, have reported cases of Zika, according to the World Health Organization.

While the Zika virus is not life-threatening to most adults, it has been linked to birth defects in infants born to Zika-infected mothers. Nearly all cases in the continental U.S. are linked to travel.

The virus is mostly mosquito-borne, though HHS researchers have said it is more common than expected for it to be transmitted by sex.

The department says it has focused on outreach to the thousands of college students who will visit Zika-infected destinations on spring break. Officials have specifically reached out to universities, while also using social media to spread the word about the risks of Zika.

The department issued new guidelines last week, urging college students to “use latex condoms if you have sex," according to a Facebook post.

As the HHS prepares for likely Zika transmission in the U.S. starting this spring, Burwell has been personally briefing House and Senate leaders. The White House will hold a Zika summit at CDC headquarters in Atlanta on April.