Zika in Puerto Rico now a public health emergency

Story highlights

  • More than 10,000 Zika cases are recorded in Puerto Rico
  • Two people have died from virus complications, health officials say

(CNN)Puerto Rico has recorded 10,690 Zika cases, including those of 1,035 pregnant women, prompting the declaration of a public health emergency in the commonweath by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Two people have died from complications of the virus and 90 were hospitalized, according to Puerto Rico's department of health.
    The actual number of people infected with Zika in Puerto Rico is likely higher, officials said Friday, because most people with a Zika infection have no symptoms and might not seek testing.
    "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," HHS said in a statement.
    The health emergency declaration allows Puerto Rico to apply for more federal resources to help fight the outbreak on the island.
    "As the first virus that can be transmitted by mosquitoes known to cause severe birth defects, we are working closely with Puerto Rican officials to pursue solutions to fight the virus in Puerto Rico," said U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell.
    Zika is known to cause microcephaly and other severe fetal brain defects in newborns and has been associated with other adverse pregnancy outcomes, including miscarriage, stillbirth and serious neurological problems.
    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned in June that Puerto Rico could see dozens, if not hundreds, of babies with microcephaly in the coming months.
    Officials are urging people to protect themselves from mosquito bites. Zika can also be transmitted through sex.
    It's not often that HHS declares a public health emergency. The last time was after Hurricane Sandy pummeled New York and New Jersey. The last time unrelated to a natural disaster was during the 2009-2010 flu season; the H1N1 strain of the virus was circulating and there was widespread concern there would be an influenza pandemic.