Florida reports 1st locally transmitted cases of Zika

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The first cases of Zika transmitted by mosquitoes on the U.S. mainland have been reported in Florida, the state’s governor said Friday.

At a morning news conference, Gov. Rick Scott said health officials believe one woman and three men in the Miami area likely contracted the virus through mosquito bites even though so far no mosquitoes have tested positive for Zika in the state.

“The Florida Department of Health believes that active transmissions of this virus could be occurring in one small area in Miami,” Scott said. “Now that Florida has become the first state to have a local transmission … we will continue to put every resource available to fighting the spread of Zika in our state.”

The U.S. had reported 1,657 cases of Zika as of Wednesday, including 307 in Florida, according to figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But until today’s announcement, all of those cases had been linked to international travel.

Canada has reported 170 cases of Zika as of Thursday. All but one were travel-related. The other case was sexually transmitted.

The Canadian government issued an updated travel health notice on Thursday acknowledging that the U.S. is investigating reports of suspected mosquito-borne Zika cases in Florida.

“The Public Health Agency of Canada is working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States to provide Canadians with the most up to date information as it becomes available,” the health notice said.

Danger of birth defects

While Zika virus can spread through sex, the vast majority of cases are transmitted by mosquitoes. In most people, a Zika infection causes only mild illness. But infections during the first few months of pregnancy can lead to severe brain-related birth defects for the fetus, including microcephaly.

Health officials had predicted that it would likely just be a matter of time before tropical mosquitoes in the continental U.S would begin spreading Zika this summer, as the the type of mosquito that spreads Zika is found in the southern part of the country.

But their expectation is that there will only be isolated clusters of Zika cases, not major outbreaks. The four locally transmitted Florida cases all occurred in a small area of less than three square kilometres just north of Miami’s downtown.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has told blood centres in Miami-Dade and Broward counties to suspend collections until they can screen units of blood for Zika.

Puerto Rico in midst of Zika ‘epidemic’

In a separate development, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday that Zika infections are increasing rapidly in Puerto Rico. It called for “urgent action to protect pregnant women.”

The CDC said 5,582 people in Puerto Rico have been diagnosed with Zika as of July 7, including 672 pregnant women.

“Puerto Rico is in the midst of a Zika epidemic. The virus is silently and rapidly spreading in Puerto Rico,” said CDC incident manager Lyle R. Peterson, in a release.

“This could lead to hundreds of infants being born with microcephaly or other birth defects in the coming year. We must do all we can to protect pregnant women from Zika and to prepare to care for infants born with microcephaly.”

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Florida reports 1st locally transmitted cases of Zika

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