White House joins Zika fight

The White House and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will gather state and local officials next month to urgently craft a plan to attack the hard-to-control mosquito that spreads the Zika virus.

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By June or July, federal health officials expect the first locally transmitted cases of the Zika virus in the continental United States. The virus has been linked to thousands of suspected cases of microcephaly, a rare birth defect, in Brazil.

The White House is inviting officials involved in mosquito control and public health to an April 1 summit at the CDC’s Atlanta headquarters to talk about how best to track and control the spread of the virus, and respond when people are affected.

“The best-case scenario here is that we could either limit local transmission or get ahead of it and contain it as soon as possible,” Amy Pope, the deputy assistant for homeland security for President Barack Obama, said in an interview on Friday.

While most people bitten by an infected insect experience only mild illness, pregnant women need to take extra precautions, the CDC has said. The World Health Organisation said on Friday that there was “accumulating evidence” of a link between Zika and microcephaly as well as Guillain-Barre, a rare neurological disorder that can cause paralysis.

More than a dozen suspected cases of sexual transmission and one case of suspected transmission through a blood transfusion have raised questions about other ways that Zika may spread.

The CDC had originally expected small pockets of Zika outbreaks in some southern states through local transmission.

Widespread use of air conditioning, window screens and regular garbage collection would mitigate the risk, the agency said.