zika

Lottie Watts/WUSF / WUSF

Gov. Rick Scott added a fifth Florida county to a public health emergency declaration over the Zika virus on Thursday, and asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for training and other assistance.

Broward joins Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Lee and Santa Rosa counties as where cases of the mosquito-borne illness have been found. All of the cases are travel related.

Florida is one of several U.S. states now reporting a few isolated cases of people infected with the Zika virus. In response, Florida's Gov. Rick Scott has declared a public health emergency in five counties in hopes of getting ahead of the virus's spread.

So far, just 12 cases of the mosquito-borne illness have been reported to health authorities in Florida, all of them among travelers who contracted the disease outside the U.S. But Scott figures it's only a matter of time before the virus starts showing up among mosquitoes in some regions of the state, too.

  Gov. Rick Scott has declared a health emergency in five Florida counties with a dozen confirmed cases of the travel-acquired Zika virus: Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Lee and Santa Rosa.

Long before this most recent outbreak, mosquito control officers across Florida have been on the front lines, trying to keep at bay diseases such as Zika, chikungunya and dengue. 

Mario Stevenson is a respected virus expert. He heads the infectious diseases division at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine. He’s done pioneering research on HIV.

But until last year he’d barely registered Zika.

“Four months ago,” Stevenson told me, “I thought Zika was an Italian football player.”

A patient acquired Zika virus in the U.S. through sex with a person who had traveled to a place where the virus is circulating, Dallas County, Texas, health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday.

This is not the first time that the virus has been sexually transmitted, and it most likely isn't the first time it's been sexually transmitted in the U.S.

(Courtesy Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Six new cases of travel-related Zika were confirmed this week in Florida.

That’s according to the Florida Department of Health, which reported the cases to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.  That brings the number of Florida cases to nine total, none of them in pregnant women. All are believed to be contracted by someone traveling outside of Florida.

The outbreak of Zika virus in Brazil and other countries has raised concern that the pathogen could start spreading widely in the United States, as well. But federal health officials and other infectious disease specialists say so far that seems unlikely.

The rapid spread of the Zika virus has raised interest in a British company that has developed a genetically modified mosquito. Oxitec has produced a genetically engineered line of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the mosquito that carries dengue fever and chikungunya. Those tropical diseases have become common in Latin America and are now showing up in Florida.

Aedes aegypti also carries Zika, a disease whose symptoms include fever, like dengue. It has also been linked to a birth defect, microcephaly in children born to women infected with Zika.

"We are alone. We have been abandoned by the state," says Marilia Lima, cradling her 2 1/2-month-old son, Arthur, against her chest.

Arthur is one of some 3,500 babies born with microcephaly, a birth defect that has been linked to Zika virus, since the virus was identified in Brazil in May. Although a definitive cause-and-effect relationship has not been proven, both Brazilian and international doctors believe there is indeed a connection.

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