Florida officials say local Zika transmission ‘likely’

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MIAMI, Florida: Florida health officials said Friday they believe that four people have been infected locally with Zika, in what would be the first evidence that mosquitoes carrying the virus are present in the continental United States.

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Officials have been investigating four cases of Zika in southern Florida that were not thought to be linked to travel to affected regions outside the country.

“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,” the department said in a statement.

“At this time, the department believes that active transmission of the Zika virus is occurring in one small area in Miami-Dade County, just north of downtown,” it added.

Governor Rick Scott told a news conference that one of the cases involved a woman, and the other three men.

“They are all active Zika cases, and have not exhibited symptoms to be admitted to the hospital,” he said.

Officials had been testing mosquitoes in the small area of southern Florida where the cases are located “for about two weeks,” he added.

“While no mosquito traps have tested positive for the Zika virus, the Department of Health is aggressively testing people in the affected area to ensure there are no other cases of this virus,” he said.

The health department had urged residents and visitors to participate if asked for urine samples in the areas being investigated, to help determine the number of people affected.

Zika is spread via mosquitoes and by sexual contact. Pregnant women who are infected face a higher risk of bearing an infant with microcephaly, a birth defect that causes an abnormally small head.

Florida has already seen almost 400 cases of Zika, all involving people who were infected while traveling to parts of the world where the virus is circulating.

For Zika to become a homegrown virus in the mainland United States, a mosquito would have to bite a Zika-infected person and then bite another person, passing on the virus.

Health officials have warned of possible localized Zika outbreaks in the United States, particularly since the virus has spread quickly throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean in the past two years.

However, mosquito control measures such as air conditioning, use of window and door screens and bug repellant are likely to prevent Zika from becoming established in the United States. AFP

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