(Bloomberg) — U.S. lawmakers must act quickly on legislation to finance mosquito eradication and health care for people infected by the Zika virus, President Barack Obama said Friday after meeting with top public health officials at the White House.
“Congress needs to get me a bill,” said Obama. “It needs to get me a bill that has sufficient funds to do the job.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said earlier on Friday that the number of pregnant women in the United States known to be infected by Zika was three times higher than previously reported, reflecting a change in how the government counts cases. There are now 279 pregnant women in the U.S. known to have the virus, the CDC said. Zika can cause microcephaly, a birth defect, and other brain damage in newborns, the agency has found. The virus may also cause Guillain Barre Syndrome, a condition that can lead to paralysis in adults.
Obama, who met with Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, and other top health officials on Friday, expressed frustration that Congress has been slow to act on his request for about $1.9 billion to prepare for the virus. Health officials say they expect local transmission of Zika in the continental United States by the summer.
“We didn’t just choose $1.9 billion from the top of our heads,” Obama said. The figure was requested by health officials, the White House has said.
On Thursday, the Senate passed a measure including $1.1 billion in emergency spending to combat the virus.