Zika Virus Has Reached U.S. Mosquitoes With The First Local Transmission In Florida

Health officials predicted the Zika virus would reach the states this summer, and they were not wrong. The first cases of locally transmitted Zika in the U.S. were confirmed in Florida Friday, with at least four people infected in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. None of them had travelled to Zika-infected countries in South America or the Caribbean nor had any contact with the virus.

“Now that Florida has become the first state to have a local transmission, likely through a mosquito, we will continue to put every resource available to fighting the spread of Zika in our state,” Florida Governor Rick Scott said in a press release Friday. The Florida Department of Health (DOH) is testing people in the area to make sure there aren’t more than four cases, and Governor Scott directed the agency to contract pest control companies to increase spraying and mosquito reduction efforts, as well as establish blood screening at blood banks and coordinate with OB/GYNs to distribute Zika prevention kits to pregnant women in the impacted area.

“We know from our experience with successfully dealing with other mosquito-borne viruses in our state that through constant surveillance and immediate action that we will protect our families and visitors,” the governor said.

It was likely Florida would be one of the first states to get Zika, and Governor Scott allocated $26.2 million in state funds for Zika preparedness, prevention, and response in the state last month. In his press release, he recognized that women who are pregnant or might become pregnant are the most at risk, as the virus causes severe birth defects in babies but isn’t very harmful to others, and urged women to see a doctor if they’re expecting.

Meanwhile, Congress failed to pass a comprehensive Zika funding bill last month when Democrats blocked the measure because the GOP’s plan allocated less money than Democrats asked for and would have imposed new restrictions on Planned Parenthood. Because pregnant women are the most affected by the mosquito-transmitted virus, passing a bill that doesn’t address contraception and women’s health wouldn’t be entirely effective, but not passing it left the U.S. with no funding to combat the public health risk, at least until Congress reconvenes after its seven-week hiatus.

Before now, all U.S. Zika cases involved people who contracted the virus in another country or by having sex with someone who did. Although the presence of Zika in American mosquitoes is a health risk, especially to women, it’s not expected to become a full-on outbreak like Brazil and Puerto Rico have seen. Governor Scott assured people it’s still safe to visit Florida this summer, but precautions like wearing insect repellant should be taken.