Florida governor criticizes Washington for lagging in Zika fight

August 7, 2016 5:24 PM EDT

FILE PHOTO - Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks at a press conference about the Zika virus as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Tom Frieden (L), Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (D-FL) and Florida Surgeon General Celeste Philip (R) look on

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(Reuters) - Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott on Sunday accused the federal government of lagging in providing assistance to combat the spread of the Zika virus in a Miami-area neighborhood, the site of the first U.S. transmission of the virus.

Scott was speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press" about the neighborhood of Wynwood, where crews began aerial spraying on Thursday to kill virus-carrying mosquitoes. Zika can cause microcephaly, a rare but devastating birth defect.

The governor said state health authorities had identified 16 cases of Zika that were spread by local mosquitoes and criticized the federal government for failing to get more involved in battling the virus.

Scott said he asked U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Thomas Frieden earlier this week for 10,000 additional Zika preparedness kits.

"We still need the federal government to show up. The President and Congress have to work together. This is a national, international issue. It's not just a Florida issue," Scott said.

A representative for the CDC could not be immediately reached on Sunday.

President Barack Obama, a Democrat, earlier this week called on Congress to approve more funds to fight Zika's spread in the United States, saying that money to fight the outbreak is rapidly running out.

Scott's comments come a day after Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida stirred controversy by telling political news outlet Politico that pregnant women infected with Zika should not be able to get an abortion, even when there was evidence the baby might be born with severe microcephaly.

"I understand a lot of people disagree with my view – but I believe that all human life is worthy of protection of our laws," Rubio, a former candidate for his party's presidential nomination, told Politico. "But if I'm going to err, I'm going to err on the side of life."

U.S. health regulators said on Friday that they had cleared the way for a trial of genetically modified mosquitoes in Florida that can reduce mosquito populations, potentially offering a new tool to fight the local spread of Zika and other viruses.

U.S. health officials have concluded that Zika infections in pregnant women can cause microcephaly, a birth defect marked by small head size that can lead to severe developmental problems in babies. The World Health Organization has said there is strong scientific consensus that Zika can also cause Guillain-Barre, a rare neurological syndrome that causes temporary paralysis in adults.

The connection between Zika and microcephaly first came to light last fall in Brazil, which has now confirmed more than 1,600 cases of microcephaly that it considers to be related to Zika infections in the mothers.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Frank McGurty and Alan Crosby)

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