WASHINGTON, D.C. (CNN) – The White House and representatives from the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) held a press briefing Monday to address the Zika virus, saying the disease is more serious than they originally thought.
“Everything we look at with this virus seems to be a bit scarier than we originally thought,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC.
The U.S. medical community is issuing a severe warning — the Zika virus needs to be taken seriously.
Last week, the White House redirected $589 million, most of which was originally designated for Ebola, to combat the Zika virus, but according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), more money is needed.
“We really don’t have what we need. When the president asked for $1.9 billion, we needed $1.9 billion,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH.
Potential vaccines are in the works, with hopes to start testing later this year, but in the meantime, the Zika virus is spreading and is directly linked to birth defects like microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome, among others.
The CDC is now focusing on the explosive number of cases expected in Puerto Rico.
“We believe there could be hundreds of thousands of cases of Zika virus in Puerto Rico and perhaps hundreds of affected babies,” Schuchat said.
Thousands of Zika prevention kits, which include bug spray, information and condoms, have already been passed out around U.S. Island territories, and while they don’t believe the continental United States faces the same risk of an epidemic, the mosquito that carries Zika is more common than they first thought.
“So instead of about 12 states, where the mosquito aedes aegypti is present, we believe about 30 states have the mosquito present,” Schuchat said.
There are already more than 60 confirmed cases of Zika in pregnant women just in the continental U.S., which is why the CDC is urging pregnant women to avoid traveling to Zika hotspots, including the upcoming Olympic games in Brazil, which is considered the outbreak’s epicenter.