Health Care

WHO warns women to delay pregnancy where Zika spreads

As the World Health Organization advised women to consider delaying pregnancy if they live in an area where the Zika virus is mosquito borne, Florida Gov. Rick Scott traveled the state on Thursday to meet with local officials — including a stop in Miami-Dade — and assess their preparedness needs for combating the infectious disease.

The W.H.O.’s latest advice could impact millions of couples in the 60 countries and territories, including Puerto Rico, where the international health agency says the Zika virus is circulating.

In Florida, where the health department has confirmed 172 cases this year, including 38 pregnant women, Surgeon General Celeste Philip, said neither the state’s health department or the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are recommending that women delay pregnancy because of Zika. So far, all of the cases in Florida have been travel related, not acquired locally.

But Philip, who attended the governor’s meeting in Miami-Dade, said the health department is closely monitoring people infected with the virus, particularly expectant mothers.

“Concern around pregnant women and women planning to become pregnant is of utmost concern to us,” Philip said.

Pregnant women and their unborn children are at greatest risk from Zika because the virus attacks fetal brain tissue and can cause congenital microcephaly, a condition in which a newborn’s head is smaller than normal and can lead to developmental challenges later in life.

As Scott has traveled the state to meet with local officials and assess their needs, the most common request, he said, “was boots on the ground,” or workers to conduct mosquito surveillance, spraying and other activities.

Mosquito traps, insecticides and laboratory help were also common requests, said Scott, who added that he would convey local needs to federal officials, including leaders of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with whom he was scheduled to speak by telephone Thursday afternoon.

“The federal government needs to show up,” Scott said. “They have funding available through the Obama administration to do these things.”

Though Congress has not yet fully funded President Obama’s emergency request for $1.9 billion to prepare a response to the Zika virus, Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, filed a bill that would authorize an additional $130 million per year in grant funding for local efforts to help eradicate the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which spreads the Zika virus and other diseases.

The bill, which received bipartisan support, would also authorize extra funding for public health laboratories to test for the virus and would require the Government Accountability Office to study and recommend ways to improve mosquito control programs.

In Miami-Dade, where the health department has confirmed 51 cases of Zika infection this year, mosquito control efforts are led by a team of 18 workers who conduct surveillance and spraying and respond to resident complaints, said Chalmers Vasquez, the county’s mosquito control operations manager.

Vasquez said the county has received about 375 referrals or complaints from residents about mosquitoes this year, and that each call has received a visit from a mosquito control worker.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who participated in the governor’s meeting, said he was confident about the county’s ability to pay for additional mosquito control resources. He said the county’s mosquito control budget of $1.68 million, which includes a fleet of 10 trucks and personnel, can be augmented if necessary.

“We will put the money in when it’s needed,” he said.

Miami-Dade already has contracted a self-equipped, two-member team to help with local mosquito control at a cost of $3,250 a day, said Lee Casey, a senior division director. Casey said the contractor has the capacity to augment Miami-Dade’s mosquito control workforce by about 100 people if necessary.

Scott said Florida needs the federal government to provide more than just the resources he requested in a letter to President Obama on June 1, including Zika testing kits and funds to hire more mosquito control workers. He said Florida also needs guidance on emergency procedures once Zika becomes mosquito borne in the state.

“What’s the process to work with FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency]?” Scott said. “Historically, FEMA comes in after the fact. In this case, FEMA needs to be — everybody needs to be — involved as part of the prevention.”

There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika virus, which is spread primarily through the bite of an infected mosquito, but the CDC also has reported cases transmitted through blood transfusions and by infected men to their sexual partners.

Daniel Chang: 305-376-2012, @dchangmiami

Zika infections in Florida as of June 9


Number of Cases

























Palm Beach








Santa Rosa




St. Johns




Total cases not involving pregnant women


Cases involving pregnant women regardless of symptoms*


* Counties of pregnant women are not disclosed.

Source: Florida Department of Health

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