Florida leads the nation in the number of people infected with the Zika virus. And just about each day, the Florida Department of Health issues reports on new cases — three in Miami-Dade Tuesday afternoon brought the number of infections to 91.
Miami-Dade County leads the state with 39 cases. Residents of at least 15 Florida counties have been diagnosed with the disease that causes neurological birth defects and can leave an adult paralyzed with Guillain-Barre syndrome.
There are five reported cases of expectant mothers infected; however, DOH excludes cases of pregnant women from the county list, making it difficult to determine the exact number of counties where the disease has been documented. The virus has been reported as close to Tallahassee as Gainesville in Alachua County and to the west in Santa Rosa County.
While no one in Leon County has reported a case of the Zika virus, county officials are working with the state to prevent the spread of the virus with spraying and a public information campaign. The current county mosquito control budget is $698,000. When adjusted for inflation, that’s about $15,000 less than was spent in 1996.
The county has five full-time and 12 part-time employees in its public works department assigned to mosquito control. Unlike the old days when trucks would routinely drive down neighborhood streets disbursing clouds of spray, the department does only nuisance spraying whenever residents call to complain.
The virus can be spread by two kinds of mosquitos. The Aedes aegypti, which was responsible for a yellow fever epidemic more than a century ago. And the Aedes albopictus, the black-and-white-striped Asian tiger mosquito. Both are found in all 67 Florida counties. The yellow fever mosquito arrived in the state in the late 1800s, while the tiger was first discovered in Florida in a Jacksonville dump in 1986. It was held responsible for an outbreak of West Nile Encephalitis in the late 1990s.
Bot the yellow and tiger mosquitos are more aggressive than domestic mosquitos and its larvae can develop in space as small as a wet bottle cap.
Dr. Amy Vittor, a University of Florida mosquito-borne virus expert, said that Florida is a paradise for mosquitos. The combination of urbanization – deforestation leaving standing pools of water – and a wet humid climate with an abundance of swamps and lakes creates a very hospitable climate.
Vittor, an assistant professor at the University of Florida’s Emerging Pathogens Institute, explained that mosquito-borne illnesses run their course when infected individuals develop antibodies and the virus can no longer find no hosts.
Writing in the academic publication The Conversation in January, she suggested Florida may be in for a long battle with the Zika virus.
“Since Zika is new to the Americas, there is a large population of susceptible hosts who haven’t previously been exposed,” said Vittor, who is also an infectious disease physician. “The virus can continue circulating without running out of susceptible hosts for a long time.”
The World Health Organization expects Zika to spread to every country in the Americas except for Canada and Chile, two destinations too cool for the Asian tiger mosquito.
The Asian tiger mosquito is a difficult pest to fight. Epidemiologists consider it the cockroach of mosquitos – living under the house or patio and emerging only to feed. It rarely travels more than 150 yards during its three-week lifespan.That short lifespan and limited mobility make disease detection difficult until a critical mass of sick people appears.
That is what happened in Brazil, the first country in the Americas to report a Zika infection. It is thought the virus arrived from the South Pacific with the World Cup in 2014. An alternate theory holds it came during an international canoe competition.
That year, Brazil reported 14 newborns with microcephaly; a neurological birth defect caused by Zika. In 2015, more than 2,700 microcephalic babies were reported.
The first documented Zika infection in Florida was reported in January. There were 14 cases by February. That number is now 93. None of the Florida cases has been traced to a Florida mosquito. All are believed to be travel related. Zika can also be spread by sexual contact and through blood transfusions.
Gov. Rick Scott has declared a mosquito emergency in five Florida counties: Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Lee, Santa Rosa and Palm Beach. In doing so, he designated DOH Secretary Celeste Philip as the lead state official on preventing the spread of the virus.
Scott has deflected questions about whether Congress should fund President Barack Obama’s request for $1.9 billion to fight Zika.
“I don’t know exactly what the right number should be, but I think we have to take this seriously,” he reportedly told the Miami Herald Monday.
Scientists like Vittor would agree with Scott on that point. Especially given the hospitality Florida’s wet, hot, humid climate provides for mosquitos.
Florida Zika cases
County Number of cases
- Alachua 4
- Brevard 2
- Broward 13
- Clay 1
- Collier 1
- Hillsborough 3
- Lee 4
- Miami-Dade 39
- Orange 5
- Osceola 4
- Palm Beach 4
- Polk 3
- Santa Rosa 1
- Seminole 1
- St. Johns 1
- Pregnant women 5
Source: Florida Department of Health
According to the CDC, A Zika illness in an adult is generally mild. One in five infected persons shows symptoms. Here are some signs and symptoms a Zika fever may include.
- a rash,
- joint pain
- eye pain
- conjunctivitis (red eyes)
- Once infected a person is likely to be immune from future infections
Symptoms while mild usually last for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito. CDC researchers have concluded that Zika virus is a cause of microcephaly and other birth defects. A Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause a serious birth defect call microcephaly as well as severe fetal brain defects.
Source: Centers for Disease Control
Florida Department of Health ZIKA Prevention Tips
DRAIN STANDING WATER
- Drain water from garbage cans, house gutters, buckets,pool covers, coolers, toys, flower pots or any other container you may possess. Mosquitos can lay eggs in a wet bottle cap.
- Discard old tires, drums, bottles, cans, pots and pans, broken appliances and other items not being used.
- Empty and clean birdbaths and pet’s water bowls at least twice a week.
- Maintain swimming pools in good condition and appropriately chlorinated.
- Empty plastic swimming pools when not in use
- Use tarps that don’t accumulate water to protect boats and vehicles.
- Clothing – wear shoes, socks and long pants and long sleeves. This type of protection is necessary for people who must work in areas where mosquitos are prevalent.
- Repellent – apply mosquito repellent to bare skin and clothing. Always use repellents according to directions. For children, younger than 2 months use mosquito netting for protection.
COVER DOORS and WINDOWS
CLARIFICATION: This report has been updated to clarify that there are two species of mosquitos, the Aedes aegypti and the Aedes albopictus, which carry the Zika virus, and that while the Asian tiger mosquito was first detected in Jacksonville in 1986, it was not linked to any West Nile cases in the state until the late 1990s.
Reporter James Call can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CallTallahassee.
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