CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden called the virus a “silent epidemic” as it continues to spread across the Americas. While the virus can cause mild symptoms such as fever, rash and pink eye, it has been found to cause devastating birth defects including microcephaly. One reason the virus is so difficult to track is because four out of five people infected do not show symptoms. In Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories, Frieden said “dozens and perhaps 50 pregnant women are becoming infected with the Zika virus” every day.
“The vast majority of these pregnancies have not yet come to term," Frieden told reporters today. "Those that have come to term are those with infections occurring later on in pregnancy, when we believe the risk [of birth defects including microcephaly] is lower."
In the U.S. seven infants have been born with birth defects after their mothers became infected with Zika while pregnant, according to Frieden. Five additional pregnancies showed fetuses with birth defects. Microcephaly is characterized by an abnormally small head can lead to developmental delays among other symptoms.
"It’s a tragedy for each family affected," Frieden said. "Hundreds and hundreds of American women [are] dealing with this."
Virtually all cases of Zika diagnosed in the U.S. were contracted while abroad, although a small number of cases were spread through sexual contact with an infected person. An estimated 1,133 cases of Zika virus have been diagnosed in the U.S. since the outbreak began, according to the CDC. There have been no cases of infections spreading through mosquitoes in the U.S.
The new tally of those infected comes as Congress is at a standstill over funding Zika. Officials said President Obama spoke with Democratic and Republican leaders today, urging a solution before Congress recesses for the summer.
Sen. Chuck Schumer said on a call with reporters that the Zika funding bill the House passed was filled with poison pills.
“We supported a compromise bill that wasn’t everything we needed but was a lot better than nothing,” Schumer said of the $1.1 billion Zika bill passed in the Senate. “This is not a time to play political games.”
Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Kathy Castor explained that in Florida there were 11 new cases of Zika announced just yesterday, which is a record for the number of cases reported in one state in one day.