Florida health officials confirmed two new cases of Zika virus on Friday, including the first reported infection in Orange County and a 10th in Miami-Dade, bringing the statewide total to 26 cases — the most of any state in the nation.
All of the Zika virus infections confirmed in Florida were acquired by people while traveling outside of the state, health officials reported, and none of the cases involve pregnant women, who are considered at greatest risk.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 82 cases of Zika infection in the continental United States as of Feb. 17, with no cases transmitted locally within any state.
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As the virus spreads rapidly through Central and South America, Mexico and the Caribbean, public health officials in the United States and abroad have scrambled to learn more about the long-term effects and transmission of Zika.
Six countries — Brazil, French Polynesia, El Salvador, Venezuela, Colombia and Suriname — have reported increases in microcephaly and/or Guillain‐Barré syndrome in conjunction with Zika. Association between Zika infection and these outcomes are strongly suspected but not yet conclusively proven.
Even Pope Francis has weighed in on the crisis, suggesting this week that that the Roman Catholic Church would condone the use of contraception by women at risk of contracting the Zika virus.
The Pope’s comments followed a Feb. 12 advisory from the CDC that Zika can be transmitted by a man to his sex partners. The CDC recommends that men who might have been exposed to the virus consider abstaining or using a condom.
Also this week, leaders of the House Appropriations Committee said they want the Obama administration to tap unused funds set aside for Ebola response and preparedness before allocating more money for Zika as requested by the White House.
The primary concern among physicians and researchers is a strongly suspected link betweenthe Zika virus and a corresponding increase in cases of microcephaly, a condition in which a newborn’s head is smaller than expected, which can lead to developmental issues.
Edward McCabe, a physician and chief medical officer of the nonprofit March of Dimes Foundation, told reporters during a conference call on Friday that Zika infection during pregnancy also may be linked to miscarriages and to problems with the eyes of newborns.
44 Countries and territories with documented Zika viral transmission from 2007 to February 2016
In the United States, McCabe said, one baby was born with microcephaly in Hawaii after the mother had been living in Brazil during pregnancy, and two miscarriages have been linked to the Zika virus. Both mothers were infected while traveling outside the country and miscarried after returning to the United States.
As the virus spread through Brazil beginning in May 2015 — with an estimated 1.5 million cases reported since then — the number of microcephaly cases spiked.
In January 2016, the World Health Organization reported 4,783 cases of suspected microcephaly in Brazil over the prior year. But further investigation confirmed 404 cases and discarded 709, leaving more than 3,600 under review.
After Brazil, Colombia has been the most-affected country, with 25,000 cases reported since October 2015, according to the WHO.
Anticipating the first locally acquired infection, the Florida health department activated a Zika information hotline (855-622-6735) offering daily updates. In addition, regional blood banks plan to implement a nucleic acid test for Zika to be used for blood donor screening.
Zika virus is known to circulate in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and the Pacific region. Zika virus had only been known to cause sporadic infections in humans until 2007, when an outbreak in Micronesia infected 31 people.
State officials established the hotline after Florida Surgeon General John Armstrong declared a public-health emergency for the virus, with 10 counties affected so far: Miami-Dade (10 cases), Broward (4), Alachua (1), Brevard (1), Hillsborough (3), Lee (3), Orange (1), Osceola (1), Santa Rosa (1), and St. Johns (1).
According to the CDC, Zika symptoms are generally mild with a rash, fever, joint pain, and red eyes. The agency has advised women who are pregnant or seeking to become pregnant to avoid locales with zika.
Public-health officials say the best way to prevent transmission of the virus is for people to protect themselves from mosquito bites by draining standing water, covering their skin with repellant and clothing and covering windows.
Zika cases as of Feb. 19 (all acquired outside Florida)
Number of Cases
Source: Florida Department of Health