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WASHINGTON — President Obama received a briefing from top government health officials on the Zika virus Tuesday, and urged faster research to develop better diagnostic tests and vaccines to stop the spread of the virus, the White House announced.

It was the first official acknowledgment that Obama is receiving updates on the virus, which is spreading throughout South and Central America and the Caribbean, and that the White House is working to formulate a response.

Obama met with Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Thomas Frieden, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as well as other health and national security advisers, according to an official White House summary of the meeting.


Obama “emphasized the need to accelerate research efforts to make available better diagnostic tests, to develop vaccines and therapeutics, and to ensure that all Americans have information about the Zika virus and steps they can take to better protect themselves from infection,” according to the White House.

The president’s advisers brought him up to speed on the recent travel advisories that have been issued, as well as the factors that could determine whether the virus spreads within the United States.


Zika virus, which can be transmitted by mosquitos, has exploded onto the world stage in recent weeks. Alex Hogan/STAT

The CDC has advised pregnant women not to travel to a growing list of countries, mostly in Latin America and the Caribbean, if they can avoid it. On Tuesday, the agency added two new countries to the list: US Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic.

Obama’s briefing comes as reports of imported cases in the United States tick upwards. Virginia and Arkansas both reported cases Tuesday in travelers who have returned from other countries. They did not give information on the gender of the infected travelers. At the current time, it is not believed such cases pose a risk to their communities.

Experts at the CDC also webcast an information session for doctors, laying out what is known so far and what remains to be answered.

Helen Branswell contributed to this report.