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Washington • Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, wants to give federal agencies more flexibility in combating the Zika virus with funds that had been earmarked to fight Ebola.

Stewart introduced legislation Wednesday that would allow the government to spend the balance of $2.4 billion set aside to fight the Ebola virus in 2014 on research and efforts to curtail Zika, a virus spreading in Latin and South America and dubbed a global health emergency by the World Health Organization. About $1.4 billion of the Ebola money was unused as of September 2015, Stewart says.

"The Zika virus is a global health threat that requires our immediate attention," Stewart said in a statement, adding that his bill gives the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention the resources and flexibility needed to find a vaccine and treatments for the virus. "Experts fear that the virus will spread more widely to the United States, especially with the Rio Olympic Games on the horizon."

Stewart is a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

Zika could affect as many as 4 million people by the end of the year, according to a report by CNN. The CDC has warned pregnant women against traveling to two dozen countries, mostly in the Caribbean and Latin America where the outbreak is growing. The CDC also confirmed that the virus, normally contracted from a mosquito bite, has been sexually transmitted in one case in Texas.

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