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Man sprays pesticide. © Agência Brasília/ Flickr
Man sprays pesticide. © Agência Brasília/ Flickr
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Zika Virus In Miami: Is Florida Under Threat?

Picture of Nadia Elysse
US Editorial Team Lead
Updated: 4 January 2017
At least 15 people in a small section of Miami-Dade County, Florida, have acquired the Zika virus without traveling to Latin America, leaving public health officials scrambling to disseminate information to locals and the greater American public about the disease.

“Crews will continue to work on the ground in the affected area, and will respond to service requests and any requests from the Florida Department of Health,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said. “I thank our residents for continuing to do their part to protect all Miamians and our visitors by draining standing water, using mosquito repellent and covering up when going outdoors, especially during early morning and evening hours.”

These newly-confirmed cases are significant because they were not acquired through international travel. But according to NBC News, this small number of non-travel related cases pales in comparison to the nearly 340 travel-related Zika virus patients in the Miami area.

Miami's Ocean Drive via Pixabay
Miami’s Ocean Drive | © Pixabay

For many, Miami is an ideal art, business, and party destination. In 2015 alone, the city and its surrounding areas boasted 15.5 million domestic and international visitors. This presents a unique challenge for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) because these Zika cases have the potential to impact more than just the local Miami community. Visitors who come for vacation put themselves at risk, as well as their friends and loved ones as they travel home.

According to the CDC, Zika can be transmitted via bite from the Aedes aegypti mosquito. The virus can also be passed from an infected partner through sex, and can be found in bodily fluids including urine and saliva. Zika is particularly dangerous for mothers-to-be and their unborn children, since it can also be transmitted from pregnant mom to fetus. Babies born to those who have had Zika are at higher risk of microcephaly, a condition that causes abnormal brain development.

“For most people with symptomatic Zika no treatment is necessary as the disease is self-limiting and once it passes, in about a week, there are no residual symptoms,” Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, an infectious disease physician at the University of Pittsburgh, told The Culture Trip. “Zika has the capacity to remain viable in semen for up to 93 days, which is why safe sexual practices are recommended.”

Mosquito on finger. via Pixabay
Mosquito on a finger | © Pixabay

Florida is not the only US state threatened by the disease. According to the CDC’s latest numbers, New York has about 450 known cases of the virus, with 1,658 cases across America as of July 27. Compare those numbers to the 165,000 cases in Brazil alone and, for now at least, characterizing North American Zika cases as a “problem” appears an overstatement. The CDC consistently disseminates information about the virus through social media and television updates. And, for the most part, public health officials have been able to keep the cases contained.

“For the vast majority of people, Zika is a minor illness — most have no symptoms at all,” Adalja said. “It is really only the threat to a developing fetus that is fueling the public health response.”

However, without an approved vaccine or a viable way to eradicate Aedes mosquitoes, Zika is likely here to stay for some time, says Adalja.

“Zika will likely become somewhat persistent in areas of this hemisphere in which Aedes mosquitoes proliferate,” he said. “However, over a few years, as people develop immunity, or if a vaccine becomes available, it may become less of a public health concern.”