Sun, Jul 31, 2016 - Page 5 News List

Miami Zika cases likely tied to mosquitoes: officials

TOEHOLD:None of the four infected with the virus had traveled to Zika-affected regions, confirming a prediction that the virus would spread to the continental US

NY Times News Service

Four cases of Zika virus infection in Florida are very likely to have been caused by mosquitoes there, the state Department of Health said on Friday — the first documented instances of local transmission in the continental US.

“Zika is now here,” US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Director Thomas Frieden said in a media briefing.

The CDC and Florida officials said that for now, the area of concern is limited to 2.6km2 in the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami, a gentrifying area with restaurants and art galleries just north of downtown.

Health authorities are not advising people to stay away from the neighborhood, Frieden said.

The four people appear to have been infected early this month; since then, mosquito control efforts have been stepped up in the area, and additional cases have not been identified.

“We don’t currently see a situation where we would advise people not to travel there or advise pregnant women not to travel there,” Frieden said, but added that this advice could change if the number of cases increases substantially.

“We would not be surprised if individual additional cases are reported,” he said, and because Zika infection often does not produce any symptoms, “there may be more cases than we know of now.”

The Florida cases signal a new stage in an epidemic that has left a trail of birth defects in Brazil and strained healthcare resources throughout Latin America.

The epidemic is raging in Puerto Rico, CDC officials reported last week: Two percent of blood donors there have been recently infected, and hundreds of pregnant women have tested positive.

Researchers had long predicted that the Zika virus would gain a toehold in the continental US, likely in Florida and along the Gulf of Mexico coast. While the outbreak is not expected to escalate sharply, its course is uncertain.

There are now more than 1,600 confirmed Zika cases in the continental US. Until the announcement on Friday, all of them had been a result of travel abroad: The virus was contracted either by a mosquito bite elsewhere or by intercourse with someone who had been to a Zika-affected area.

None of the four patients in Miami had traveled to Zika-affected areas in Latin America or the Caribbean. After interviewing more than 200 people, Florida health authorities have apparently concluded that none were infected through other means.

Frieden said that the one woman and three men, residents of Miami-Dade and Broward counties, were not related, but that all had been in a section of Wynwood around the time they were infected early this month.

At least two were working at different sites in the neighborhood, which had “conditions that can spread Zika,” such as standing water that can attract mosquitoes.

Officials declined to say if the infected woman was pregnant. Zika infection is mild for most people, but in a developing fetus, it can cause a condition called microcephaly, characterized by abnormally small heads and brain damage. In rare cases in adults, it can also cause a form of temporary paralysis.

Florida Governor Rick Scott said in a statement that none of the four “exhibited symptoms to be admitted to the hospital.”

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