zika virus
Local mosquitoes are believed to have infected 10 more people in a small area of Florida. CDC/Cynthia Goldsmith via Wikimedia Commons

Today, President Obama requested $1.8 billion in emergency funding from Congress for preparedness and research into the Zika virus, according to a White House press release. Though the president emphasized that people shouldn’t panic about Zika, it should be taken seriously especially because of its link to the birth defect microcephaly.

In this outbreak, which started in April 2015, the mosquito-borne virus has spread throughout 26 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. To date, 50 cases have been diagnosed in the U.S. Though none has been acquired through mosquito bites in the U.S., that’s expected to change: “As spring and summer approach, bringing with them larger and more active mosquito populations, we must be fully prepared to mitigate and quickly address local transmission within the continental U.S., particularly in the Southern United States,” according to the White House press release.

Most of the money would be allocated to research into treatment and prevention of Zika, and some would be for public health monitoring programs. More than 80 percent of the funds would go to the Department of Health and Human Services, which contains the Centers for Disease Control, Medicaid, and vaccine research programs. $335 million would go to the U.S. Agency for International Development to support countries already affected with the outbreak, and $41 million would go to the State Department to better care for government employees living abroad who are infected.

This money would probably not fund cutting-edge research, like the genetic manipulation technique called gene drive that would get rid of mosquitoes altogether.

Though President Obama clearly wants the country to be prepared in case Zika starts to spread throughout the mainland U.S., but during an appearance on CBS News he reminded Americans to keep a level head about the virus. “There shouldn’t be panic on this. This is not something where people are going to die from it. It is something we have to take seriously,” he said.