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Shaheen Asks for Spending Estimates for Fighting Zika Virus

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen on Wednesday asked three cabinet secretaries to quickly spell out what additional funds and legal authority their organizations may need to combat the spread of Zika, a rapidly spreading virus that may be linked to a birth defect.

In a Jan. 27 letter, the New Hampshire Democrat asked the secretaries of the Health and Human Services, State and Homeland Security departments to "swiftly detail" any additional resources they may want to request to fight Zika virus. Obama will release his fiscal 2017 budget request on Feb. 9. As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, Shaheen will be in a position to advocate for resources to combat Zika. She is the top Democrat on the committee's Homeland Security panel and also a member of its Labor-Health and Human Services-Education panel.

"In recent days, the virus has been discovered in Americans who have traveled to countries where Zika has been found, and the World Health Organization has said it is likely to spread to nearly every nation in the Western Hemisphere," Shaheen said in her letter.

President Obama on Tuesday met with leaders of his health and national security team on Zika and other mosquito-born viruses, according to the White House. Among those briefing the president were HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden and Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The White House said that Obama emphasized the need to accelerate work on diagnostic tests and vaccines and drugs.

The World Health Organization said research is continuing into a suspected link between Zika and microcephaly, or undersized heads, in babies exposed to the virus before birth. The CDC has recommended that pregnant women consider postponing travel to areas known to be affected by the virus.

Symptoms of Zika infection include rashes, joint and muscle pain, and headaches. These are usually mild and may last two to seven days, according to the WHO.