U.S. health officials said Friday that four cases of Zika virus were transmitted locally by mosquitoes in Miami, the first evidence of the virus spreading that way in the continental U.S.
Previous cases have been caused by travel to affected areas or sexual contact with an infected person, and the report from Florida suggests that outbreaks of the virus could become common in some parts of the country, rather than just being imported from abroad.
“As we have anticipated, Zika is now here. Everything we’ve seen so far indicates to us that this is mosquito-borne transmission,” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden said Friday. While the findings are concerning, and more cases could be found, health officials “don’t expect widespread transmission in the continental U.S.,” he said.
The Florida Department of Health is investigating a small area in Miami, just north of downtown, where it “believes that active transmission of the Zika virus is occurring,” the state health agency said in a statement. The area, which is about a square mile, includes the Wynwood neighborhood–known for its art district and restaurants. One of the cases involves a woman and the other three involve men.
Because symptoms are typically mild, it’s possible that the disease has already spread through mosquitoes in other places or that the infection is more widely present and transmitting in Florida without health officials being able to confirm it. None of the four Florida patients exhibited symptoms.
“There may well be more cases that we’re not aware of right now because most people infected with Zika don’t have symptoms,” Frieden said Friday.
Florida Governor Rick Scott said Florida has a good track record of fighting mosquito-borne viruses and has directed health officials to increase mosquito abatement efforts in the affected areas.
Florida is battling the virus with its own resources and additional funds from the CDC, which add up to about $12 million, according to Benjamin Haynes, a spokesman for the agency. Additionally, Scott said in June that he would use his executive authority to allocate $26.2 million in state funds for Zika preparedness, prevention and response in Florida.
The CDC is “scrambling to come up with money” and prepare states as Congressional lawmakers left for recess after once again failing to pass a $1.1 billion spending package to combat the spread of the virus, Tom Skinner, a spokesman, said in a telephone interview last week.
President Obama was briefed this morning and has directed his team to monitor and assist the investigations. The news should be “a wake-up call to Congress to get back to work,” Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said during a press briefing on Friday.
Meanwhile, a baby in New York is one of a growing number of children born in the United States with microcephaly, a condition that requires intensive care and can lead to a variety of other problems, including seizures, vision and hearing loss and intellectual disability.
Steve’s Take: It’s official. Zika is now here in the United States. Here’s what’s at stake at this point.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has concluded that infection with the Zika virus in pregnant women is the cause of the birth defect microcephaly and other severe brain abnormalities in babies.
The CDC said now that the causal relationship has been established, there are many other important questions about Zika’s transmission and long-term health implications that must be answered with studies that could take years.
With at least 14 confirmed cases of Zika infection in Florida, the state’s $82-billion tourist industry is now seriously threatened. Conference after conference has been canceled recently and the outlook is grim.
What do we know? We know that Zika is transmitted by two different mosquitoes that are present in the United States. The virus is transmitted by sex–male to female, female to male, and male to male. It is also transmitted by blood. The virus is also possibly transmitted by casual contact, although a definitive causal link is still pending.
Once in the United States, the virus, according to the World Health Organization, will now spread until everyone subject to the means of infection has been infected. Since you cannot be re-infected, they predict epidemic will be over in approximately two years as everyone will have antibodies. That’s the good news.
But by then, however, the human toll will be staggering, tragic. Scores of babies with microcephaly will have been born with very little, if any, future for a normal life. For some, the condition will be fatal.
Meanwhile, Congress has refused to fund the money required to fight Zika. I mean zero funding, leaving the affected states and all of us citizens to fend for ourselves. The difference between the GOP and Democratic funding request is a mere $800 million–exactly 0.013% of our national defense budget.
The situation is absurd, intractable and completely unacceptable. The fact that foreign companies have been partnering with the U.S. Army to initiate development of a Zika vaccine is mind boggling.
The ineptitude of our federal lawmakers now ranks us with many Third World countries, and yet week after week, month after month goes by with no action.
I seldom resort to this type of plea, but I call upon you to contact our legislators and demand that they drop the partisanship and political games and do their job to protect us, their electorate, regardless of our leanings. We need action, and we need it now.
Congress returns from its seven-week summer junket next month. Let’s have their email inboxes and voicemail jammed with our pleas for their action. If their response is the same inaction that’s brought us to this sad state of affairs, many of them will face us at the voting booths this November. Maybe that will get their attention.
Apologies for the rant, but I’m embarrassed by the blind partisanship of our government, this situation is intolerable and, frankly, I’ve had it.