A Zika health emergency has been declared in Puerto Rico


The US government has declared a public health emergency in Puerto Rico amid a Zika virus epidemic.

The declaration allows the US Department of Health and Human Services to award grants, access emergency funds and temporarily appoint staff where needed.

"This administration is committed to meeting the Zika outbreak in Puerto Rico with the necessary urgency," said department secretary Sylvia Burwell, who travelled to the US territory in late April to evaluate its response to the spread of the virus.

Sylvia Burwell
(John Raoux/AP)

The announcement came hours after Puerto Rico reported 1,914 new cases in the past week, a total of 10,690 since the first one was reported in December.

The mosquito-borne virus has infected 1,035 pregnant women, which is a concern to authorities because Zika has been linked to a severe birth defect known as microcephaly. More than 100 pregnant women infected with Zika in Puerto Rico who have given birth have had healthy babies, officials said.

Puerto Rico reported the first microcephaly case acquired on US soil in May, involving a dead foetus that a woman turned over to health authorities. Since then no microcephaly cases have been reported, but officials say it is only a matter of time.

(Rick Bowmer/AP)

Puerto Rico governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla said he had asked government officials to declare a public health emergency and thanked them for their support.

"Zika poses a hidden threat to future generations of Puerto Ricans and I feel the responsibility to do everything in my power to fight the spread of it," he said.