Four people in Florida are thought to have become infected by the Zika virus through local mosquitoes. The state’s health department has confirmed that these are the first cases in the US mainland that have not occurred through travel to Latin America or by sexual relations with someone who is infected with the Zika virus.
Currently, officials are going door-to-door to attempt to investigate where the virus came from. The four people who have been infected with possible locally-transmitted Zika are from the Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
The health department issued a statement:
“The Florida Department of Health has gathered enough information as part of its ongoing investigation into non-travel related cases of Zika in Miami-Dade and Broward counties to conclude that a high likelihood exists that four cases are the result of local transmission.”
However, scientists have been testing batches of local mosquitoes and so far have not found any evidence of the Zika virus in them.
The governor of the state, Rick Scott, has said that those living in these counties can contact their health department to be tested. This is especially imperative for pregnant women as Zika is known to cause birth defects, including microcephaly. Microcephaly occurs when a child’s head is smaller than normal, however, the issue is not cosmetic alone. Many children with the birth defect have severely delayed physical and cognitive functioning.
Officials are also worried that children born of a mother infected with Zika who appear to be “normal” at birth may go on to develop further issues as they age, including the loss of vision and hearing.
Because of the confirmation of the local cases within these counties, blood banks will no longer accept donations from Broward and Miami-Dade counties until all remaining blood can be tested for the Zika virus. They are urging blood centers not to accept any donations from those who have recently traveled to these two counties either.
Health officials will also be giving out mosquito repellent and Zika prevention kits in order to protect the population. While a Zika outbreak is predicted in the United States, it is thought that it will be relatively small compared to Latin America’s outbreaks due to the widespread use of air conditioning and screens. These are two things that seem to protect people from the virus.
Anna Scanlon is an author of YA and historical fiction and a PhD student at the University of Leicester where she is finishing her degree in modern history.