Florida health officials confirmed two new Zika virus infections on Friday — raising the statewide total to 84 cases, most in the nation — as former Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio said he supports President Obama’s request to Congress for $1.9 billion in emergency funding to combat the spread of the infectious disease.
Hosting a press conference with local and state officials at his Doral office, Rubio said ensuring the appropriate use of federal funds to combat Zika was the best way for the Obama administration to win the support of congressional Republicans, who broke for spring recess in March without acting on the president’s February request.
“While I’m supportive of fully funding the president’s initiative on this,” Rubio said, “I want to make sure that the money, when appropriated, will be appropriately spent on what we’re trying to address.”
I’m supportive of fully funding the president’s initiative on this.
Sen. Marco Rubio
With Florida leading the nation in Zika cases, including two new infections reported in Broward and Palm Beach counties on Friday, Rubio spent the morning meeting with state and local officials, including Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and public health experts, to gauge the needs for combating the virus, which is primarily transmitted by mosquito bites.
Rubio stressed calm. “There’s no crisis,” he said. “This is an issue that we’re going to confront.”
He said federal funding should be prioritized first to expedite development of a rapid diagnostic test kit for Zika, which would require approval from the Food and Drug Administration and other agencies. Currently, only state health departments and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have the ability to diagnose the disease, a process that can take days or weeks.
Rubio also wants federal money to be spent on local and state mosquito-control efforts, and with the National Institutes of Health to fund research into a vaccine for Zika. The virus poses the greatest risk to pregnant women and their unborn children because of a strongly suspected link between a Zika outbreak in Brazil and a concurrent spike in microcephaly, a birth defect in which a baby is born with an abnormally small head and an underdeveloped brain.
But Rubio also urged Floridians to take “personal responsibility” to protect themselves from the Zika virus using repellant and long sleeves to prevent mosquito bites, and by draining standing water.
“Government can’t solve this problem all by itself,” he said. “A lot of this is about going to people and saying, ‘There are simple, common sense things you can do, not just to protect yourself from Zika, but to protect yourself from any mosquito-borne illness.”
Miami-Dade’s $1.68 million mosquito control budget includes funding for aerial mosquito spraying by contract with a private company and the U.S Air Force.
Gimenez, the county mayor, said that as summer approaches, traffic through South Florida’s airports and seaports will peak at the same time as mosquito season — with many travelers visiting Latin American and Caribbean countries most affected by the virus.
Gimenez said Miami-Dade’s budget of about $1.68 million for mosquito control is “not set in stone,” and that three months ago he ordered county administrators to spend “whatever it takes” on spraying and other efforts.
Miami-Dade, home to the state’s greatest number of Zika infections with 33 cases, employs 17 people for mosquito control and contracts with the U.S. Air Force and a private company for aerial spraying.
“The vectoring that we’re going to do is going to be based on demand,” Gimenez said, “and obviously we’re going to step it up when we have a threat.”
The CDC has confirmed 346 Zika cases in the United States as of April 6, including 32 pregnant women. Seven of those cases were sexually transmitted, including one in Florida’s Polk County. None of the cases were transmitted in the United States by mosquito bites, according to the CDC.
There is no specific medicine for Zika virus, which causes symptoms such as fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes lasting from a week to 10 days. The CDC advises that the best way to prevent acquiring the disease is for people to protect against mosquitoes, and for men who have contracted the disease to abstain from sex or use a condom.
A previous version of this article stated that Miami-Dade does not have vector control staff. Miami-Dade employs 17 people who conduct field inspections and spray for mosquitoes using hand-held equipment and truck-mounted spraying.
Zika virus cases in Florida as of April 8
Number of Cases
Cases involving pregnant women*
* Counties of pregnant women not disclosed
Source: Florida Department of Health