Fourteen cases of Zika virus have been reported in the Miami area, leading Center for Disease Control (CDC) officials to issue a health alert for pregnant women and their partners living and traveling in that area of Florida. Although the mosquito-borne virus can go virtually undetected in most people, contracting the illness during pregnancy can lead to microcephaly, a severe birth defect that results in children needing lifelong care. Several other countries, including the United Kingdom, have already issued travel advisories for pregnant women traveling to south Florida.
On Monday, officials announced that 10 new cases of Zika virus had been identified, adding to four previously known cases. The diagnosed cases are concentrated, leading health officials to believe the highest risk centers around a one-square-mile zone north of downtown in the Wynwood neighborhood. CDC officials believe these Zika cases all began when individuals contracted the disease locally, rather than while traveling overseas. This marks the first locally transmitted occurrence of the Zika virus within the continental United States.
The travel warning applies to women who are currently pregnant as well as those who may become pregnant in the near future, as contracting Zika could cause birth defects even after the fact. “Women who were in this area and left this area recently should wait at least eight weeks before trying to get pregnant,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden at a news conference on Monday.
Officials continue to warn residents to take action to discourage mosquitoes, such as getting rid of standing water inside homes and backyards, as well as using insect repellant when outside. Widespread pest control attempts by local agencies haven’t had much of an impact on the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries the Zika virus, so additional precautions are now necessary. Health officials also noted that the mosquitoes do not travel more than 150 meters in their lifetime, which means the risk is confined to a small geographic area.