Florida confirmed Friday that four people in south Florida had contracted Zika from local mosquitoes — the first such evidence of transmission in the continental United States. Now Florida health officials say ten more people have tested positive for Zika in the Miami area, bringing the total up to 14 who’ve gotten the disease from a local bloodsucker.
Until now, all of those infected with Zika in the United States — more than 1,650 cases as of last week — became ill after traveling to a Zika hot spot or through sex with someone who visited an affected area. But the good news: Florida governor Rick Scott said Monday that health investigators still believe the Zika-carrying mosquitoes are terrorizing a small part the county — about one square mile — of the Wynwood neighborhood, a trendy arts district just north of downtown Miami. Tests of area mosquitoes have all come back negative for Zika, but officials doused the area with pesticides to kill off bugs and dumped standing water to destroy potential breeding grounds. Officials also went door to door and handed out Zika information kits.
Two women and 12 men account for Florida’s homegrown Zika cases. At least six were asymptomatic (not uncommon for Zika, whose symptoms include fever and rashes), and health officials discovered them after canvassing house to house.
Governor Scott has asked the Centers for Disease Control to bring in emergency response teams to help deal with the outbreak. The CDC issued a Miami travel warning to pregnant women or those thinking of conceiving because of Zika-related birth defects. Dr. Thomas Frieden, the head of the CDC, said Friday “the bottom line is that Zika is now here.” But Frieden basically advised against a major freak-out, saying that it’s unlikely the United States will be dealing with the kind of Zika epidemic that’s hit places like Brazil, ground zero for the mosquito-borne virus.
Senate Democrats have called on their colleagues to interrupt their summer recess (session’s out for the season) and head back to Washington to vote on a Zika funding bill that had previously (surprise!) failed to make it out of Congress before everyone left town. The Senate passed a bill that allocated $1.1 billion for Zika, but the legislation died after the GOP-led House came up with a Zika emergency bill that redistributed some funds from other health programs, including from an Obamacare initiative and money set aside for Ebola. Lawmakers also loaded the House bill with riders, some that had nothing to do with Zika — like ending the ban on flying Confederate flags at veterans’ cemeteries. The Obama administration — which asked for $1.9 billion in funding months ago — would have vetoed that legislation, anyway.