Florida reported three new Zika virus infections, including one pregnant woman, on Friday as federal and state public health officials meeting at the headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta called on Congress to fund President Barack Obama’s $1.9 billion request for preparedness and response efforts.
Zika preparedness is particularly significant for Florida, which leads all states with 79 confirmed cases, including five pregnant women, who are considered to be at greatest risk from the infectious disease. There have been 312 confirmed cases of Zika virus in the continental U.S. as of March 30, according to the CDC.
Speaking at a “Zika action plan summit” convening public health officials from across the country, CDC Director Tom Frieden said, “There’s much more to learn and much more to do” to prepare and respond to the disease, which is primarily transmitted by mosquito bites but can also be spread through blood transfusions and by men to their sexual partners.
Nearly all of the cases confirmed in the U.S. were acquired by persons traveling outside of the country, though an unspecified number have been transmitted by sex.
“Nothing about Zika is going to be easy or quick,” Frieden said.
Nothing about Zika is going to be easy or quick.
CDC Director Tom Frieden
He suggested that states appoint leaders for their Zika response efforts, but did not single out any state as having a complete plan of response for the disease.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a public health emergency for Zika on Feb. 3, and the state has since established a hotline for residents to call in with questions and concerns.
Florida’s Interim Surgeon General Celeste Philip, a physician, led a 10-member delegation to Friday’s Zika summit in Atlanta. Afterward she issued a written statement calling it a great opportunity to learn what colleagues in other states are doing to prepare.
“Our team returns home with new ideas and contacts from other states that will further enhance Florida's preparedness activities,” she said.
While public health officials work on preparedness and response efforts, scientists have made important discoveries about Zika since the CDC issued its first advisory about the rapidly spreading disease in January.
79 Total Zika virus cases in Florida
This week, a team led by Purdue University researchers became the first to determine the structure of the Zika virus, providing insights critical to the development of antiviral treatments and vaccines.
There is no specific medicine or vaccine for Zika virus, which causes symptoms such as fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes lasting from a week to 10 days, according to the CDC. The agency advises that the best way to prevent acquiring the disease is for people to protect against mosquitoes using repellants such as DEET and for men who have contracted the disease to abstain from sex or use a condom.
Pregnant women and their fetuses are at greatest risk from Zika because of recent findings establishing a link in Brazil between an outbreak of Zika and a concurrent spike in microcephaly, a birth defect in which a baby is born with an abnormally small head and an underdeveloped brain.
Zika virus cases in Florida as of April 1
Number of Cases
Cases involving pregnant women*
* Counties of pregnant women not disclosed
Source: Florida Department of Health