At a dramatic press conference held yesterday, Governor Rick Scott said Florida is the first state in the US to see locally transmitted Zika virus. The evidence is circumstantial at best, but officials aren't taking any chances. Image: Google Maps
Over the past week, four unexplained Zika cases have emerged in Florida's Miami-Dade and Broward counties (which are adjacent to each other), prompting speculation that local mosquitoes are now spreading the dreaded disease. Governor Scott admitted that no mosquitoes in Florida have tested positive for the virus, but the signs are all pointing to this grim conclusion. "Florida has become the first state in our country to have a local transmission of the Zika virus," he said.
Officials have narrowed down the area of likely transmission to 2.5 square kilometres just north of downtown Miami. The exact location has been identified to within Northwest 5th Avenue to the west, US 1 to the east, Northwest/Northeast 38th Street to the north and Northwest/Northeast 20th Street to the south. The mosquito that spreads Zika, Aedes aegypti, flies only a few hundred metres over its entire lifespan.
"While no mosquitoes have tested positive for the Zika virus, [Florida's Department of Health] is aggressively testing people in this area to ensure there are no other cases," Scott said. "If you live in this area and want to be tested, I urge you to contact the county health department which stands ready to assist you."
Aedes aegypti mosquito. (Image: Associated Press)
Yesterday, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said that there's sufficient evidence to assume that mosquitoes are now spreading the disease in Florida. It says the four Florida cases fit similar disease transmission patterns for other mosquito-borne diseases, including chikunguna, which has been making the rounds in Florida in recent years.
Accordingly, the CDC has recommended that blood centres in the two Florida counties stop taking donations, and suggests that blood centres in adjacent counties do the same. Florida's main supplier of blood, OneBlood, will begin testing all collections for Zika using an investigational donor screening test. The state will provide OneBlood with $US620,000 ($815,215) to make it happen.
Among the other measures taken, a Mosquito Declaration will be issued, guaranteeing that counties will have the resources needed to combat further local transmission. Miami-Dade and Broward counties will receive $US1.28 million ($1.68 million) in state funds. In addition, health workers will be recruited to distribute Zika prevention kits to pregnant women living in these regions. Other measures include a door-to-door campaign to hand out mosquito repellant and to educate the public on the risks.
For most people, Zika produces relatively mild symptoms, like fever and rash, but for pregnant women -- particularly those in the first and second trimesters -- it can result in serious birth defects, including abnormally small heads.