Florida investigates 2 more suspected local Zika cases – USA TODAY
Mosquito control officials in Miami brace for the first locally aquired Zika virus transmitted by mosquito.
Florida health officials are going door to door to investigate two more Zika infections that may have been spread by local mosquitoes, bringing the total number of suspected local cases to four.
Although officials haven’t yet confirmed how the infections were contracted,Â the spread ofÂ Zika among native mosquitoes would be a major change in the course of the disease in the continentalÂ U.S., where allÂ cases until now have been linked to travel to Zika-affected regions.
The four Florida cases under investigationÂ areÂ in Broward or Miami-Dade counties, according to theÂ state health department.
Because of the risk of a local Zika outbreak, the Food and Drug AdministrationÂ has asked all blood donation centers inÂ Miami-Dade,Â Broward and surrounding areasÂ to stop accepting blood donations until the blood can be tested for the virus.
Blood collection centers across the country also shouldn’t accept any blood donations from people who have traveled to Miami-Dade and Broward counties within the past four weeks, the FDA added.
About 1,660Â people in the continental U.S. have been diagnosed with Zika after traveling or, in 15 cases, having sex with a traveler, according to theÂ CDC. Both men and women can spread the virus sexually, although the vast majority of infections are caused by mosquito bites.
Zika, which can cause devastating birth defects,Â is spreading much more widely in U.S. territories, with nearly 4,700Â cases in Puerto Rico alone. More than 430 pregnant women in the continentalÂ U.S. have been diagnosed with Zika, along with 422Â in the territories.
TheÂ actual number of infectionsÂ could be much higher, said Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.Â Only one in five people with Zika develop symptoms,Â which include rash, fever, muscle achesÂ and headaches, according to the CDC. So most people with the infection don’t know it.
Public health departments don’t have the money or staff to test everyone for Zika, so many cases are never detected, Hotez said.
“Remember for every imported case being reported, there are dozens of others not being reported,” Hotez said. “The numbers, IÂ believe, are highly unreliable due to underÂ reporting and under testing.”
Florida public health staffÂ will collect urine samples from residents to test for the virus as a way to gauge how many people are infected. Health officials also are giving out Zika prevention kits and mosquito repellent.
Health officials have warned the virus is likely to spread to the continental U.S., although they’ve said any outbreaks are likely to be relatively small, given Americans’ widespread use of air conditioning and window screens.
Even without official confirmation of local Zika spread, “we’re treating it as if it’s real,” said Karen Harris, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Gainesville, Fla., and spokeswoman for the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.Â “That’s the safest thing we can do for our patients.”
Harris and her colleagues posted information about Zika in every exam room at their office. They’re also advising pregnant women to use condoms for the duration of their pregnancies in order to prevent Zika infections.
“We’re telling all of our pregnant patients not to leave the house without mosquito repellent,” Harris said.
Communities in Florida and Texas have been able to control recent outbreaks of dengue, another mosquito-borne tropical disease, by aggressively killing mosquitoes and removing the standing water where they breed,Â said Amesh Adalja, a senior associate at the Center for Health Security at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
If the four Florida cases were spread by local mosquitoes, Adalja said itÂ would “raise the stakes for pregnant women in Florida, who will have to be meticulous in their avoidance of mosquitoes.”
Although most Zika infections are mild, the disease can cause miscarriages andÂ catastrophic brain damage in fetuses, according to the CDC. ThirteenÂ American women have had babies with Zika-related birth defects. Seven other women have miscarried or terminated pregnancies because of Zika, including one in Puerto Rico.
Because there are no vaccines or treatments for Zika, the CDC cautionsÂ people to protect themselves from mosquito bites by wearing long pants and insect repellent when outside, and by emptying standing water around their homes.Â The agency also warnedÂ pregnant women to avoid to areas with Zika outbreaks.
Hotez said he wonders why Florida officials are taking so long to confirm whether Zika is spreading locally, given that the first suspected case in a non-traveler was announced a week ago.Â “The investigation should be very straightforward,” he said.
The process would including interviewing the four infected people and asking whether they’d traveled to a Zika-infected area in the past month or had sex with someone who traveled to such a region in the past one or two months, HotezÂ added.Â “This is not difficult,” he said.