Florida health officials reported a record number of new Zika virus cases in the state on Wednesday: 11 in a single day.
They're travel-related cases, meaning people caught the virus elsewhere and were diagnosed in Florida. The virus is not yet spreading through infected mosquitoes in the continental United States.
"The number of cases daily goes up and down," said Mara Gambineri, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health. "However, we expect cases to increase more rapidly with the change in CDC case definition, the advent of commercial testing, increased awareness and a general uptick in travel during the summer." The CDC, or Centers for Disease Control, is the US federal entity that monitors and fights diseases such as Zika.
In late May, the CDC expanded its case definition to include any lab evidence of Zika virus, regardless of whether the patient recalled Zika symptoms. Only one in five people with the virus experience symptoms, according to the CDC.
The Zika virus, first discovered in 1947, didn't pose much of a threat to public health until late 2015, when officials noticed that the virus's arrival in Brazil coincided with an uptick in babies born with microcephaly, a birth defect in which babies are born with abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains. As of June 29, there were 61 countries and territories with ongoing Zika transmission, according to the World Health Organization.
The World Health Organization declared a public health emergency on February 1. In April, the WHO and the CDC declared that they had reached a scientific consensus that the Zika virus caused microcephaly, other birth defects and a neurological condition called Guillain-Barré Syndrome.
Florida has reported 263 travel-related Zika cases in all, including 43 pregnant women, according to its Department of Public Health.
"We may indeed get some local transmission but it will be detected fairly quickly and will be ended by interventions," said Dr. William Schaffner, chief of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. "Local health departments, state health departments, and the CDC will jump on that. Everyone will work to make sure the spread is very limited."
The highest proportion of Zika-infected travelers acquired the virus in the Dominican Republic (24 percent), followed by Puerto Rico (15 percent), Colombia (12 percent) and Jamaica (9 percent), according to the Florida Department of Health.
Meanwhile, in Puerto Rico, the Centers for Disease Control told the Associated Press that as many as 50 pregnant women are becoming infected with Zika virus each day. Along with the Environmental Protection Agency, the CDC is urging Puerto Rico to control its mosquito population with aerial pesticide spraying.
"Multiple independent data sources indicate that at current trends thousands of pregnant women in Puerto Rico will catch Zika," CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden, said in a statement this week. "The continental United States has been using aerial spraying for decades to reduce mosquito populations, and we urge the people of Puerto Rico to consider using the same proven and safe tactic."
As of June 29, there were 935 Zika cases in the United States, including Washington DC, and another 2,026 cases in US territories, which include Puerto Rico. Of these, the CDC is monitoring 287 pregnant women with lab evidence of Zika in the states and 250 pregnant women with lab evidence of Zika in US territories.
President Barack Obama has asked Congress to appropriate $1.9 billion to stop the virus in its tracks. Senate Democrats blocked a bill that would have provided $1.1 billion in Zika funding last week because Republicans added a Planned Parenthood funding cut to the bill.
"It's appalling," Schaffner said of how slow Congress has been to act on advice from the CDC regarding Zika funding. "The discontent out there among the voting population, that's deserved. Congress has just been terrible on this particular issue. that should have been a straight ball. It should have taken them two weeks, if that long."
On July 1, the CDC awarded $25 million to combat the Zika virus, including $5 million to Puerto Rico.