HHS declares emergency in Puerto Rico over Zika

10,690 cases have been confirmed on the island

The number of individuals infected with Zika virus disease in Puerto Rico has become a serious threat, prompting U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell to declare a public health emergency in Puerto Rico on August 12.

The Puerto Rico Department of Health said 10,690 cases of Zika virus disease have been confirmed, including 1,035 in pregnant women. But those figures are just an estimate. Many people with the infection don’t show symptoms and wouldn’t know to get tested.

The emergency status will give health officials in Puerto Rico more tools to combat the virus. Officials also hope the warning will alert locals to the threat of Zika virus disease and the need to take more precaution against mosquitos that carry the virus. Pregnant women are especially vulnerable since the virus has been linked to birth defects.

“This emergency declaration allows us to provide additional support to the Puerto Rican government and reminds us of the importance of pregnant women, women of childbearing age, and their partners taking additional steps to protect themselves and their families from Zika,” said Burwell in an official statement.

In mainland United States, Florida is currently in the throes of the first local outbreak. Health officials in Florida have confirmed 28 locally transmitted cases. All except one of those case are contained to a neighborhood just north of downtown Miami.

Until now, almost all Zika virus disease cases in the mainland United States have been travel-related.

State officials have been ramping up surveillance, prevention efforts, and mosquito-control programs, especially in Southern California and in states along the Gulf Coast, where more Zika virus disease cases are expected.