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What Is The Zika Virus, And How Can I Keep Safe?

UPDATE: Aug. 1, 2016 — Gov. Rick Scott said another 10 people—now a total of 14—are believed to have contracted the Zika virus from local mosquitoes. He called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Emergency Response Team to help the Department of Health with its investigation. Officials still believe the Wynwood area is an active transmission site. 

UPDATE: July 29, 2016 —After investigating non-travel-related cases of Zika virus in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, the Florida Department of Health on Friday said "a high likelihood exists that four cases are the result of local transmission."

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It would mark the first time the virus has been contracted in the continental United States. 

Although no mosquitoes have yet tested positive for Zika, the FDOH points to a likely active transmission area in Miami, "between NW 5th Avenue to the west, US 1 to the east, NW/NE 38th Street to the north and NW/NE 20th Street to the south." Many might recognize the 1-square-mile area includes the trendy Wynwood neighborhood.

“We continue to recommend that everyone in areas where Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are present—and especially pregnant women—take steps to avoid mosquito bites," CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said in a statement. "We will continue to support Florida’s efforts to investigate and respond to Zika and will reassess the situation and our recommendations on a daily basis.”

There have been 386 travel-related cases of Zika virus reported in Florida. Ninety-nine of those were in Miami-Dade County, while 55 were in Broward County.

According to the CDC, symptoms of Zika include fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis (red eyes), muscle pain and headache. The symptoms are often mild and usually last for several days to a week. However, pregnant women should heed caution and seek medical care immediately if they experience any symptoms, as the virus has been linked to birth defects. 

Photo via Florida Department of Health

Previously...  

As of early April, there were 84 cases of Zika virus reported in Florida, all travel-related. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention teamed up with the Florida Department of Health to answer questions about Zika virus to keep Florida residents safe.​

Tell me more about the mosquito.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito, the type of mosquito that spreads the Zika virus, is present in Florida and throughout the southern United States.

Is it likely the Zika virus will spread in Florida?

From learned experience with dengue virus and chikungunya virus in Florida, which are spread by the same mosquito, travelers who come back infected can infect local mosquito populations. With what we know from dengue and chikungunya, it is very unlikely we will have large outbreaks of Zika virus in the U.S. One major reason for this is we have better constructed housing with air conditioning and intact screens that protect us from being bitten by mosquitoes in our homes. When a locally acquired mosquito-borne illness is present, the department works closely with mosquito control to stop further transmission of the virus of concern. Mosquito control and the health department jointly provide public education whenever possible, since it is very important all residents cooperate and drain containers on their property at least weekly to help successfully control this mosquito population.

Why do people say that pregnant mothers should be aware of this virus?

The Ministry of Health of Brazil has reported an increase in the numbers of newborns with microcephaly as well as other poor pregnancy outcomes in areas experiencing Zika virus outbreaks. The CDC is conducting research to further characterize the relationship between Zika virus and poor pregnancy outcomes. Additional studies are planned to learn more about the risks of Zika virus infection during pregnancy. 

How can I protect myself and my family?

The Florida Department of Health urges Florida residents and visitors to protect themselves from all mosquito-borne illnesses by draining standing water; covering their skin with repellent and clothing; covering windows with screens; and taking other basic drain and cover precautions. 

What is being done to prevent transmission of Zika virus in Florida?

State and local health departments are working closely with other partners to make sure people at risk for Zika virus infections, as well as health care providers, stay informed with the most current science and public information about the Zika virus. We also provide education about effective repellents and insecticides. These include products with DEET, picaridin, IR 3535 and some oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-methane-diol products. In addition, county health department staff report suspect Zika fever cases to local mosquito control staff to make sure mosquito control activities are put in place.

I heard that you can contract Zika virus by sexual contact. Is it true?

As of July 27, there have been 15 cases of sexually transmitted Zika virus in the continental United States and Hawaii. According to the CDC guidance, if a male partner of a pregnant woman lives in or travels to an area with active Zika virus transmission, the couple should abstain from sex or use condoms every time they have sexual contact for the duration of the pregnancy. 

Who can I call to have the area around my home sprayed for mosquitoes?

In Florida, many counties and cities have mosquito control services. Please contact your county or city government offices to find out if these services are available in your area. The mosquitoes that spread Zika breed in small containers so you can also limit your risk by making sure to regularly dump all sources of standing water in bird baths, flower pots, etc., on your property at least weekly.

(Photo via Wikimedia Commons/Muhammad Mahdi Karim)

Editor's note: This post has been updated with the current number of  travel- and non-travel-related Zika cases reported in Florida. Previous questions or statements in reference to local transmission of Zika have been removed in order to keep the piece up to date.