Zika epidemic grips Puerto Rico

- The Zika virus has infected more than 5,500 people in Puerto Rico as of early July, according to the CDC.

Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that can be spread through sexual activity. The CDC said that Zika can cause birth defects. Several countries and territories in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean are dealing with outbreaks.

"Puerto Rico is in the midst of a Zika epidemic. The virus is silently and rapidly spreading in Puerto Rico," Dr. Lyle Peterson, a CDC official, said in a statement. "This could lead to hundreds of infants being born with microcephaly or other birth defects in the coming year. We must do all we can to protect pregnant women from Zika and to prepare to care for infants born with microcephaly."

Health officials said that Zika infection has become widespread in the U.S. commonwealth since the first local transmission was reported in December 2015. People in 77 of 78 municipalities have tested positive for Zika virus infection, the CDC said. The epidemic is severely affecting large urban areas.

"Because Zika infection during pregnancy can harm the developing fetus, pregnant women in Puerto Rico and other areas where Zika is spreading should be routinely tested during prenatal care whether or not they got sick," the CDC said in a news release. "Of the 672 pregnant women, 441 (66 percent) experienced symptoms of Zika and 231 (34 percent) had no symptoms."

In May, New York City announced it would donate 1 million condoms to Puerto Rico in an effort to prevent the spread of the Zika virus.

"New York City is home to the largest population of Puerto Ricans in the continental U.S., and many New Yorkers travel back and forth to the island," Dr. Mary Bassett, New York's health commissioner, said in May.

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