WASHINGTON — President Obama will ask Congress for $1.8 billion in emergency funding to combat the Zika virus through mosquito control programs, vaccine research, education and improving health care for low-income pregnant women, the White House said Monday.

The proposal also includes $355 million in foreign aid to South America, Central America, the Caribbean, where the Zika virus is spreading most rapidly. The World Health Organization declared an international public health emergency last week, warning that the mosquito-borne virus is strongly suspected as the cause of a cluster of cases of microcephaly, a neurological disorder that afflicts the babies of pregnant women with the virus.

“And so we are going to be putting up a legislative proposal to Congress to resource both the research on vaccines and diagnostics but also helping in terms of public health systems,” Obama told CBS This Morning in an interview taped Sunday.

But even as he asked for the additional resources, Obama sought to reassure Americans about the risks. “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.

The good news is this is not like Ebola. People don’t die of Zika. A lot of people get it and don’t even know that they have it,” Obama said. “What we now know, though, is that there appears to be some significant risk for pregnant women or women who are thinking about getting pregnant.”

The additional funding is “an important step and needed measure,” said Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. He said the funding should also be targeted in low-income areas along the Gulf of Mexico, which tend to be hit hardest by mosquito-borne diseases, partly because residents may not be able to afford air conditioning or even window screens.

“We’re also going to need to conduct environmental clean up to help wipe out mosquito breeding areas, while providing quality house screens to pregnant women who live in poverty,” Hotez said.

Obama is scheduled to submit his 2017 budget to Congress Tuesday. But if Congress approves the emergency funding request, the money would be available in this fiscal year.

The Obama administration is also briefing Senate leaders Tuesday on the Zika response at the invitation of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

“Protecting Americans, particularly children, from communicable diseases is a high priority for everyone,” said McConnell Deputy Chief of Staff Don Stewart. He said Congress would consider the emergency funding proposal, but in the context of larger budget. “And given limited federal resources, we expect the administration will brief Congress on their funding priorities at the briefing.”