The Obama administration on Friday declared a “public health emergency” in Puerto Rico over the Zika virus.
The move is an indication of the severity of the virus in Puerto Rico, which is being hit much harder than the continental United States. The declaration allows Puerto Rico to apply for additional funding to fight the virus, which can cause severe birth defects.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said the declaration shows “the current spread of Zika virus poses a significant threat to public health in the Commonwealth relating to pregnant women and children born to pregnant women with Zika.”
There are 10,690 confirmed cases of Zika in Puerto Rico, including 1,035 pregnant women, HHS said.
“This emergency declaration allows us to provide additional support to the Puerto Rican government and reminds us of the importance of pregnant women, women of childbearing age, and their partners taking additional steps to protect themselves and their families from Zika,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said in a statement.
The move comes one day after HHS announced that it is shifting funding from other areas within the department to prevent a delay in work on the Zika vaccine.
HHS said that decision was made as a last resort, since Congress has not approved any new funding.