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HEALTH ALERT: Zika Cases Triple In US

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Zika virus cases have now tripled in the US. The sharp rise in the numbers is due to how the government is now counting cases.

George Solis has reaction from health experts in Maryland and how they plan to fight the virus.

There are now more than 150 cases of Zika in the US---up from 48 last week. Here in Maryland, health experts are issuing caution to all pregnant women as the numbers could go up even higher.

A sudden increase of Zika cases in the US is causing fear in Maryland.

"My worst fear is that we'll see outbreaks of Zika in areas like ours," said Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen.

Wen is reacting to the number of pregnant women infected with the virus tripling due to a change in how the government counts cases of the virus transmitted by certain mosquitoes.

"We're going to have the kind of mosquito that can carry Zika right here in Baltimore," said Wen.

The Centers for Disease Control initially counted cases where women showed symptoms and had positive blood tests. Now they're just counting all women who test positive.

"I think it's a scary time to be thinking about pregnancy," said Dr. Rita Driggers.

Dr. Driggers, Director of Maternal Fetal Medicine at Sibley Memorial in DC, recently authored a study confirming a link to the virus and a birth defect called microcephaly, babies born with deformed heads and brain damage.

"What they wanted more than anything was for people to learn from their misfortune. She underwent induction of labor, which allowed us to perform further evaluation," said Driggers.

Recently, the doctor had a patient who close to end her pregnancy once she learned her baby's brain was not developing normally.

In Baltimore, there's a city-wide task force committed to educating pregnant women about the virus and teaching the public to get rid of standing water, where the mosquitoes can breed.

Health experts are also calling on the federal government to chip in to help combat Zika.

"We could have potentially thousands of our babies born with severe brain damage, and we cannot let this happen," said Wen.

Just this week, President Barack Obama requested nearly $2 billion to combat Zika; the House and Senate passed funding far short of that.

These cases are still based on people who have traveled to other countries where Zika exists.

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