Zika Hits the US - How to Prevent Mosquito Bites

Florida Declares State of Emergency

Florida Counties
Zika cases have been confirmed in Florida's Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Lee, and Santa Rosa counties. courtesy: U.S. Census Bureau

Update: With the Florida Department of Health having identified two areas of Miami-Dade County where Zika is being spread by mosquitoes, CDC has issued an update on Advice for people living in or traveling to South Florida. Following is the previous article on the travel-related cases, along with advice for prevention - all of which is also still applicable.

Previous content: With nine confirmed travel-related cases of the Zika virus having occurred in Florida, the Surgeon General of Florida/State Health Officer declared a public health emergency in the state on February 1, 2016. The people who were infected with the Zika virus had all traveled outside the country, and none were pregnant – the most at risk people due to complications for the baby. The confirmed cases were in the counties of Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Lee, and Santa Rosa.

About the Zika Virus

The Zika virus is transmitted by the Aedes mosquito, which is not native to the U.S., but does occur in some areas. At present, though, there are no known infected mosquitoes in the U.S. There also has been some reports that the virus can be sexually transmitted.

The greatest concern of the virus is the effect it has on the development of the baby of pregnant women who contract the virus. There are reports from areas where the virus has been diagnosed of babies being born with undeveloped heads/brains (microcephaly). There are also reports of infect people contracting neurological disorders, such as the life-threatening Guillain-Barre syndrome – a rare disorder that causes the immune system to attack the peripheral nervous system, resulting in loss of muscle function and, in severe cases, paralysis and respiratory difficulties.

Florida is responding to the public emergency by enabling the allocation of resources to the affected counties and meeting with county officials to develop mosquito control and prevention plans and public outreach programs for medical professionals.

Zika: Spreading in the U.S.

Florida’s declaration follows that of the World Health Organization which had declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern and CDC’s issuance of travel alerts. According to CDC statistics:

  • 35 travel-associated Zika cases have been reported from the U.S. but none are reported as locally acquired within the continental U.S.
  • 10 cases have been reported from U.S. territories including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, 9 of which were locally acquired from mosquito bites.
  • It is expected that the number of international travel-related Zika cases will increase and spread in some areas of the U.S.

In a January 28 press briefing, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that its experts “are working intensively to learn more about the outbreak and providing people with the information they need to protect themselves.” Some of the steps CDC has taken include continually issuing travel alerts for affected areas, providing guidance for doctors and other clinicians on pregnant women and infants, helping state health labs with diagnostic testing, and working in Brazil and Latin America on training and research.

Additionally, CDC has added Zika to the list of conditions which state health departments have to report to CDC. This enables the center to track the disease provide appropriate notification of and response to its spread.  

Protect Your Family from Mosquitoes and Zika

CDC has also made recommendations on how to protect yourself and your family against mosquito bites and the Zika virus including:

  • Pregnant women should consider postponing travel to a region with ongoing Zika virus transmission.  
  • If you are pregnant and must travel to or you live in an affected area, talk to your doctor and strictly follow mosquito prevention steps.
  • Anyone in an area where Zika has been detected should protect themselves against mosquitoes by wearing long sleeves, long pants, using repellents like Deet, and using screens and air-conditioning to reduce exposure to daytime mosquitoes.  

Along with those recommendations, however, CDC’s Principal Deputy Director Dr. Anne Schuchat stated, “It’s important to remember that this is a rapidly changing situation.  As we get new information, we may need to update our advice.”