Zika Virus Creeps Its Way Through Florida

( /Ronnie Chua)

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Florida health officials are investigating cases of local Zika virus contractions in areas outside a Miami, Fla., neighborhood.

Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott described the new case as a “new individual with non-travel related Zika in Palm Beach County,” north of Miami in a Monday press statement. The infected individual appears to have traveled to Miami-Dade County, where they could have contracted the virus, but state officials declined to release any other information about the case.

If the individual contracted Zika in Palm Beach County, the mosquitoes bearing the virus have spread much more than anticipated.

The investigation “does not mean active transmission of Zika virus is occurring in Palm Beach County,” The Florida Department of Health said in a statement. “If the department identifies any area of concern in Palm Beach County, we will notify the public immediately.”

Since July, Florida has documented 17 local cases of Zika, likely acquired by mosquitoes carrying the virus inside the state. It is the first state in mainland America to report locally-acquired Zika.

Federal and state health officials already directed pregnant women to avoid parts of Miami that were heavily struck by the virus, and are distributing kits to test for the virus to pregnant women in Florida. Florida health officials stated that 17 patients in Miami were reportedly infected with Zika. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration stopped accepting blood donations from the Miami-area in late July until donors are screened for the virus.

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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Laboratory studies confirmed the presence of Zika virus in the blood, tissue, brains and amniotic fluid of fetuses and babies diagnosed with microcephaly.

There have now been 12 confirmed cases of babies born with Zika-related microcephaly in America, and more than 400 pregnant women in the continental U.S. have evidence of Zika infection. Some babies with no immediate signs of problems have also been born in the U.S. to Zika-infected mothers.

The virus is spread by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which also spread several other dangerous tropical diseases. Mosquitoes kill more people than other humans and are the most deadly insects on the planet.

There are currently 1,825 cases of Zika virus confirmed in the continental U.S., as well as another 5,548 in American territories, according to the CDC’s most recent update published last week. These cases include 16 believed to be the result of sexual transmission, one that was the result of laboratory exposure, as well as six new local cases. The vast majority of the cases were from people who traveled to a Zika-prone country, such as Brazil.

Army medical researchers announced last Friday that a Zika virus vaccine was successfully tested on monkeys and human trials are expected soon.

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