The nation’s first local outbreak of Zika disease spread by local mosquitoes was confirmed to be occurring within a one-square-mile area north of Downtown Miami, Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday morning, triggering a wave of response from local, state and federal public health agencies.
Four people in Florida likely have been infected with Zika virus by local mosquitoes — two in Miami-Dade and two in Broward counties — Scott said at a press conference broadcast on national TV from the health department in Orlando.
“This means Florida has become the first state in the nation to have local transmission of the Zika virus,” he said.
While no mosquitoes trapped and tested in Miami-Dade and Broward have tested positive for Zika virus, Scott said that “The Florida Department of Health believes that active transmission of this virus could be occurring in one small area in Miami-Dade County.”
The area Scott identified touches on the Wynwood, Midtown and Design District neighborhoods in Miami, and is bordered by Northwest Fifth Avenue to the west; U.S. 1 (Biscayne Boulevard) to the east; Northwest/Northeast 38th Street to the north; and Northwest/Northeast 20th Street to the south.
State health officials have been trapping and testing mosquitoes for weeks in neighborhoods where the four people with local Zika infections live, though they have not identified the individuals or their precise locations. Investigators also have gone door-to-door in the neighborhoods, interviewing residents and collecting urine samples for testing, State Surgeon General Celeste Philip said.
Earlier this week, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dispatched a medical epidemiologist to Florida to help with the investigation.
“All the evidence we have seen indicates that this is mosquito-borne transmission that occurred several weeks ago in several blocks in Miami,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a statement on Friday. He recommended that people, especially pregnant women, take steps to avoid mosquito bites.
Anthony Fauci, a physician and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stressed several times on Friday that pregnant women or women thinking of getting pregnant should not travel to Brazil or other areas with ongoing Zika transmission.
Fauci also said he’s running out of money to fund NIAID research into a Zika vaccine and other efforts, including a better understanding of the virus’s long-term effects. President Barack Obama asked Congress in February to approve $1.9 billion in emergency funding for Zika preparedness, but legislators are in summer recess after failing to agree on the amount.
News that Zika is now spreading in South Florida forced U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Miami Republican, to address the outbreak at an event originally planned to showcase his opposition to recent events in Venezuela.
Speaking at the Venezuelan restaurant, Arepazo #2, in Doral, Rubio was joined by fellow Republicans, including U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Illeana Ros-Lehtinen, state Rep. Carlos Trujillo and state Sen. Rene Garcia.
“Zika doesn't just bite Republicans or Democrats or independents, it bites everyone,” Rubio said, adding that earlier this week he wrote to the president and asked him to spend about $300 million in federal funds available now.
“Don't hold it back to play political games,” Rubio said he wrote to the president. “Zika is not a partisan issue, it is not a political issue.”
Curbelo also blamed Democrats for refusing to support a House Republican proposal of $1.1 billion in funding but that would have reduced funding for Planned Parenthood, defunded parts of the Affordable Care Act and reversed a ban on flying Confederate flags in military cemeteries.
“I've been very fair in terms of criticizing both parties for failing to act,” Curbelo said. “Now, it's senate Democrats who are regrettably blocking this funding from moving forward. It's not the $1.9 billion that we would have all wanted, but $1.1 billion dollars is still significant funding to fight this disease.”
Zika virus spreads to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti or Aedes albopictus mosquito, which is common in Florida and much of the Southern United States. The virus can also be spread during sex by an infected person to their partner.
Most people infected with Zika won’t have symptoms, but for those who do, the illness is usually mild. However, Zika infection during pregnancy can cause a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly and other severe fetal birth defects.
The local cases in Miami-Dade and Broward were identified by physicians who brought them to the attention of the health department. All four of Florida’s local cases are active Zika infections but none of the people have exhibited symptoms to be admitted to the hospital.
The health department reported two new travel-related cases Thursday, both involving pregnant women, raising the statewide total to 383 people who have contracted the virus this year, including 55 expectant mothers.
Pregnant women are considered to be at the greatest risk from the Zika virus because it can cause microcephaly and other birth defects.
No mosquitoes in Florida have tested positive for the Zika virus to date, Scott said. The health department urged people who live in the area north of downtown and want to be tested to contact the Miami-Dade agency at 305-324-2400 for more information.
In confirming local transmission of Zika, Scott said he directed the health department to immediately begin contracting with commercial pest control companies to increase spraying and mosquito reduction efforts in the impacted area.
The governor also directed the health department to activate the Joint Information Center within the state’s Emergency Operations Center to ensure impacted areas have coordinated access to information and resources.
Zika cases reported in Florida as of July 28
Number of Cases
Total cases not involving pregnant women
Cases involving pregnant women regardless of symptoms*
* Counties of pregnant women not disclosed.
** Does not included suspected cases of local transmission.
Source: Florida Department of Health