SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that Puerto Rico is facing a Zika crisis, noting people here often don't use window screens and many insecticides used on the island are ineffective against the mosquito that carries the disease.
Visiting the U.S. territory to help boost the fight against the spreading virus, Dr. Tom Frieden said CDC officials are helping Puerto Rico find insecticides better suited for attacking the Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmits Zika and other diseases. He said CDC officials are helping test nine different insecticides for that purpose.
Frieden urged the local government to create a robust and long-term mosquito surveillance and control program.
"Zika is likely to spread very quickly, so time is of essence," he said, noting that the virus is different from the dengue and chikungunya epidemics that have gripped Puerto Rico. "It can bring many problems to families, to the community, to the island for many years to come."
Researchers are trying to determine if Zika may be linked to a variety of serious outcomes for developing babies, including microcephaly, which causes babies to have unusually small heads and brain damage. Those threats can affect a woman at any stage of pregnancy, officials have said.
Puerto Rico has 157 confirmed Zika cases, but many other people are believed to be infected. Six people have been hospitalized and 14 pregnant women are infected. In addition, one person is recovering from Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare paralysis that also may be linked to Zika.
Frieden said thousands of pregnant women across Puerto Rico will likely be infected, given the island's population density and the custom of using windows without screens.
Puerto Rico halted all blood donations last month and began buying blood from the Red Cross to prevent potential contamination, following recommendations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday that it was paying for shipments of blood products to Puerto Rico to guarantee a sufficient supply.
Officials say they have requested at least $225 million in federal funds to fight the spread of Zika in Puerto Rico.
Frieden said Puerto Rico's government has worked hard and responded well ever since the first Zika case was reported in December, but he noted that many challenges await.
"I'm never satisfied," he said. "We need to do so much more, so much faster to protect as many women as possible."
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