The Cable

Locally Transmitted Zika Arrives in the United States

Public health officials have been warning for months that the virus would arrive in the U.S.

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Since the start of the Zika outbreak, public health experts have warned it’s only a matter of time before the virus, which has been linked both to microcephaly in newborns and Guillain-Barré, a condition that causes paralysis in adults, is transmitted in the United States. That moment appears to have arrived.

On Friday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott said that in at least four cases, three men and one woman, have caught the bug locally, meaning it was passed by mosquitoes in the United States. Nearly all previous U.S. cases of Zika were acquired by traveling to areas where the virus has run rampant.

“This means Florida has become the first state in our nation to have local transmission of the Zika virus,” Scott said at a Friday morning press conference.

The cases occurred in a one square mile area in northern Miami, the governor added. For now, he said that is the only place where mosquitoes are known to be transmitting the virus.

“We’re being very aggressive at testing people there; we are testing the mosquitoes there and we spraying to make sure it’s contained,” Scott said, adding that health officials do not think additional transmissions were ongoing.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than 1,600 Zika cases in the United States. The vast majority of these were acquired abroad, but there are a few instances of the bug being transmitted through sexual contact on American soil.

The first known transmission of Zika via mosquito on U.S. shores is only likely to heighten concerns about the disease. There’s no vaccine for the virus, and Congress has yet to pass a bill to allocate funding to the CDC to prepare and combat the Zika virus.

Florida, with the help of the CDC and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has been aggressively trying to prevent Zika from arriving in the state. The Florida Health Department has been handing out Zika prevention kits to pregnant women. It has also told Florida residents to eliminate standing water where mosquitoes breed.

“We know this virus is most detrimental to expectant mothers,” Scott said. “If you are pregnant or think you might become pregnant contact your OB-GYN [physician].”

The first locally transmitted U.S. case comes a week before the Summer Olympics kick off in Brazil, the epicenter of the outbreak. Some athletes, including American cyclist Tejay van Garderen and Australian golfer Jason Day, are skipping the games due to concerns they will contract Zika there.

Photo credit: GASTON DE CARDENAS/Getty Images

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