Florida confirms first cases of locally transmitted Zika

Zika Virus | The four infected patients all live near Miami and got the virus through mosquito bites
by Ciera Horton
Posted 7/29/16, 03:55 pm

ORLANDO, Fla.—Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday that South Florida has the first four cases of the Zika virus transmitted by mosquitos in the continental United States.

One woman and three men in the Miami area have contracted Zika from mosquito bites, though no mosquitos in Florida have tested positive for the virus yet. Health officials think the infections have been contained to a small area near Miami.

More than 1,600 Zika cases have been reported in the U.S., 383 in Florida, but they were all connected to travel in areas known to have the virus in local mosquito populations. The Florida cases are the first unconnected to travel outside the U.S.

Zika is primarily contracted through bites from tropical mosquitos, though it can also be sexually transmitted. The virus usually results in mild illness, but it also can be transmitted from a pregnant woman to her baby and cause serious birth defects and neurological disorders.

“We know this virus is most detrimental to expecting mothers,” Scott said at the news conference. “If you are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant and live in the impacted area, I urge you to contact your OB/GYN for guidance and to receive a Zika prevention kit. I also ask every Floridian to take proper precautions by eliminating any standing water and wearing insect repellent.”

The risk of Zika outbreak compelled the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday to instruct blood collection centers in the Miami area to stop taking blood until donations can be tested for the virus.

Florida, Texas, and other states near the Gulf Coast are considered at high risk for the spread of Zika. The region is home to the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the primary virus transmitter.

“If [Zika] spreads to parts of the Southern U.S., it could be a serious problem,” World Health Organization spokesman Daniel Epstein told WORLD in June. “It’s a serious threat because it’s a new disease for most people.”

But today officials said widespread outbreak is unlikely.

“The opportunity for [mosquito] habitat in Florida, while Florida is a warm, wet, sub-tropical climate, is very different than the nations that have seen much, much higher incidence of Zika spread, largely because higher standards of living in the state of Florida,” said Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam.

Officials also say tourists shouldn’t be concerned about visiting the Sunshine State. There have been no documented cases of mosquito-transmitted Zika in central Florida, home to Orlando, one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations with more than 66 million tourists last year alone.

Despite attempts to calm fears, Scott criticized the lack of help from the federal government to fight the virus.

“I went to Washington and met with members of Congress to talk about the funding,” he said. “I talked to the White House, the HHS secretary. Congress didn’t fund, and they went on recess—that’s disappointing.”

Washington lawmakers acknowledged the threat of a continental Zika outbreak. But amid gun control debates in June, Senate Democrats blocked the GOP-led bill authorizing $1.1 billion in Zika funding, claiming the bill included unnecessary provisions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has now given $8 million to Florida for Zika-specific funding, but Scott insists more can be done: “This is not just a Florida issue. This is a U.S. issue, it’s a national issue. We’re just at the front of it.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Ciera Horton

Ciera Horton is a WORLD intern.

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