The first four documented cases of locally-transmitted Zika virus occurred in the continental U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Friday.
None of the four patients traveled to Zika-affected areas in Latin America or the Caribbean, causing the CDC and Florida health officals to concluded they were infected by local mosquitoes in Miami.
“Zika is now here,” Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the CDC, said at a press briefing. “We don’t currently see a situation where we would advise people not to travel there or advise pregnant women not to travel there.”
One woman and three men infected with the virus all appear to have acquired it from a single small neighborhood in Miami, but health authorities are not advising people to avoid the neighborhood. Florida health officials stated that the four patients appear to have been infected in early July, but no additional cases have occurred in the area after mosquito control efforts were intensified.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration stopped accepting blood donations from the Miami-area in late July until they are screened for the virus.
Officials declined to state if the infected woman was pregnant.
Zika virus infections in pregnant women are directly linked to fetal deaths and devastating birth defects such as microcephaly, when a baby is born with an abnormally small head, according to the CDC. Laboratory studies also confirmed the presence of Zika virus in the blood, tissue, brains and amniotic fluid of fetuses and babies diagnosed with microcephaly.
There are currently 1,661 cases of Zika virus confirmed in the continental U.S., as well as another 4,729 in American territories, according to the CDC. These cases include 15 believed to be the result of sexual transmission, one that was the result of laboratory exposure, as well as the four new local cases. The vast majority of the cases were from people who traveled to a Zika-prone country, such as Brazil.
There have now been 12 confirmed cases of babies born with Zika-related microcephaly in America, and more than 400 pregnant woman in the continental U.S. have evidence of Zika infection. Some babies with no immediate signs of problems also have been born in the U.S. to Zika-infected mothers.
Researchers have repeatedly estimated that the mosquitoes that carry the virus would probably spread to America, especially Florida and Gulf Coast states.
A study published in March by the National Center for Atmospheric Research found that the Zika-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito could spread as far north as New York City this summer if the weather is warmer than average.
The Aedes aegypti mosquito lives in tropical climates. Zika likely won’t spread as prolifically in the U.S. as it has in Latin America and the Caribbean, due to the high number of Americans living and working behind air-conditioned doors. The study also found small numbers of the mosquitoes can survive in much of North America during spring and fall when temperatures cool.
Researchers from the U.S. National Institutes of Health announced earlier this month they’re already setting aside money to study American Olympians who contract the Zika virus while competing in the 2016 Rio Olympics in Brazil.
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