Florida's Zika outbreak sparks emergency response and travel warning

Florida is now the first state to see an outbreak of the virus transmitted locally from mosquitos, with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dispatching teams to assist in the response.
August 2, 2016, 12:59pm
Imagen por James Gathany/CDC/AP

The state of Florida is calling on the federal government for help responding to a worsening Zika virus outbreak in Miami, where at least 16 people have been infected with the virus by local mosquitoes.

Governor Rick Scott revealed this week that 10 additional people have contracted Zika, most likely transmitted locally from mosquito bites, adding to the six cases announced last week. Florida is now the first state to see an outbreak of the virus sparked from within the US, as opposed to brought in from other countries where mosquitoes carry the virus.

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Scott's move to bring in a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emergency response team will boost the state's efforts particularly in the way of case investigation. The CDC team will be made up of Zika virus and lab experts, as well as those with specialities in pregnancy and birth defects and risk communications.

The team will assist with controlling the vector for Zika virus, infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which are native in Florida and other parts of the US. CDC said two of its staff are already on the ground, while another six will be stationed there by Tuesday.

So far, 2,300 people have undergone testing for the virus by public health officials in Florida, with the most recent locally transmitted cases uncovered through labor-intensive case investigation. These efforts require resident by resident evaluation through Miami neighborhoods under watch. Scott said the latest testing has been hyper-localized to three specific parts of Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

This testing led the CDC to conclude there is risk of "continued active transmission" of the virus in at least one Miami neighborhood, identified by authorities as Wynwood.

"As part of a community survey in the Miami neighborhood where several Zika infections were recently confirmed, have found persistent mosquito populations and additional Zika infections in the same area," the agency said in a statement on Monday.

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According to the CDC, the first known infection occurred on June 15, marking the start date for recommendations for pregnant women who have been in the Wynwood area to speak to their healthcare providers. Going forward, pregnant women are advised not to travel to the neighborhood and those living there should practice recommended measures to prevent mosquito bites.

More than 370 people in the southern state are so far infected with Zika, with the latest news of local transmission pushing the federal government to allocate an additional $5.6 million in CDC funding for the response. Earlier in the summer, Florida received $2 million to go towards the state's response and preparation efforts.

Zika began grabbing headlines in 2015 after an increase in microcephaly in babies — meaning they are born with smaller heads and brains — in Brazil, correlated with transmission of the virus in the country. Brazil has been under a public health emergency declared by the World Health Organization since February 1. More than 60 countries are experiencing continued transmission.

So far the US has recorded more than 900 cases, with at least 280 pregnant women under surveillance. When counting Puerto Rico, the total jumps to 2,000 infections.

Follow Kayla Ruble on Twitter: @RubleKB