Despite growing concerns over the spread of the Zika virus abroad, the National Institutes of Health's Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday there is no cause for alarm about its spread in the United States and explained health officials' efforts --but added that women traveling abroad need to take travel warnings very seriously.
Fauci said thus far its presence United States has been confined to more than 350 "travel-related cases," or cases picked up in countries with active Zika virus. His comments, in an interview for CBS' "Face the Nation," come days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the virus causes birth defects.
He cautioned that the next step is "local transmitted cases," which is when clusters of new cases crop up among people who haven't traveled to Zika-affected countries.
"The reason we think that is going to happen is because infections that are quite similar to Zika, like dengue and chikungunya, which are transmitted by exactly the same mosquito and have been in the Caribbean, South America for awhile, we have seen in the past little clusters of local transmitted cases within the country," he said. "The critical issue is that, in the past, we have successfully prevented it from becoming sustained and disseminated. And that's what we have to be prepared to do when we do get those locally transmitted cases in the United States."
He said the CDC is working on multiple fronts to combat the virus, including working to develop a vaccine, controlling mosquito populations and working with state and local health authorities. Those efforts would be aided greatly by more funding from Congress, he said.
"That's the reason why we asked for it, because, right now, we're using money from other accounts to do that," he said. "And that is going to be just a stopgap measure. We are going to have to get the money to be able to do the full job that we planned to do."
Fauci said there's no cause for alarm for pregnant women in the United States, but that women who are considering getting pregnant should take the travel warnings seriously and avoid affected countries.
"Women in the United States getting pregnant should not be worried about anything regarding pregnancy," he said. "If you're pregnant, thinking of becoming pregnant, might be pregnant, definitely you should not travel to the areas where there are outbreaks, such as South America, the Caribbean and Central America."
Men who travel to Zika-affected areas also need to be careful, Fauci said, because it's now been confirmed that Zika can be transmitted from person to person sexually.
"If you're a man and you to go this area, and you might be infected and come back, you should refrain from sex or use safe sex for at least six months if you don't have a pregnant partner, or if you have a pregnant partner, for the entirety of the pregnancy," he said.