After the number of confirmed cases of Zika virus in Florida grew to 12, Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday expanded a public health emergency in the state to include Broward County.
A day earlier, Scott declared the public health emergency in Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Santa Rosa and Lee counties.
Speaking in Tampa on Thursday alongside Dr. John Armstrong, the state’s surgeon general, Scott sought to assure people that Florida is safe. But he also urged Floridians to be prepared, “just like a hurricane.” He is asking the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide at least 1,000 kits to test pregnant women who show symptoms of the virus.
“It’s no different than what I do in hurricanes. You always try to get out in front of something, try to prevent the problem but know if you’re going to have a problem, you’d rather be prepared,” he said.
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All 12 of the confirmed cases in Florida are travel-related, and there have been no known transmissions within the state, either from mosquitoes or between people. None of the people who have been infected is pregnant, according to Scott’s office. Reports have connected Zika to a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly, although according to the CDC, “knowledge of the link … is evolving.”
U.S. health officials also have said a person in Texas became infected with Zika through sex, in the first case of the illness being transmitted within the country.
The governor’s action is reminiscent of his response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Africa, but he has not declared public health emergencies for outbreaks of other illnesses, including other mosquito-borne diseases.
“With regard to Ebola, we got ahead of it,” Scott said. “We put a lot of effort into making sure everyone was informed in our state in case something happened.”
As statewide vigilance over Zika expanded, South Florida health officials emphasized awareness and prevention during a news conference on Thursday afternoon at Jackson Memorial Hospital.
Doctors from Jackson Health and the University of Miami Health System plus the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade reiterated that despite the seemingly rapid spread of Zika, there are only a handful of cases across Florida and protection from the mosquito-borne illness is as simple as wearing long sleeves, pants and insect repellent.
The virus, they said, is primarily carried by certain species of mosquito, the Aedes aegypti, and poses a low risk for healthy adults. Symptoms — fever, rash, joint pain and pink eye — are generally mild and appear in only 20 percent of cases.
South Florida geographically is a concern because of its high volume of returning international travelers visiting Latin America, where Zika is on the rise.
Hospitals like Jackson and Baptist Health have begun cataloging patients’ recent travel history and making note of those who visited one of the 29 countries and territories in the CDC’s travel-alert list.
Diagnosis of Zika can take up to three weeks, according to Lillian Rivera of the Florida Department of Health.
Contact Michael Auslen at email@example.com.