MIAMI (AP) — Mosquitoes have apparently begun spreading the Zika virus on the U.S. mainland for the first time, health officials said Friday in a long-feared turn in the epidemic that is sweeping Latin America and the Caribbean.
Four recently infected people in the Miami area – one woman and three men – are believed to have contracted the virus locally through mosquito bites, Gov. Rick Scott said.
No mosquitoes in Florida have actually been found to be carrying Zika, despite the testing of 19,000 by the state. But other methods of Zika transmission, such as travel to a stricken country or sex with an infected person, have been ruled out.
“Zika is now here,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Still, U.S. health officials said they do not expect widespread outbreaks in this country of the sort seen in Brazil, in part because of better sanitation, better mosquito control and wider use of window screens and air conditioners.
The virus has triggered alarm across the Western Hemisphere’s warmer latitudes. While most people who get Zika don’t even know they are sick, infection during pregnancy can cause severe brain-related birth defects, including disastrously small heads.
More than 1,650 people in the mainland U.S. have been infected with Zika in recent months, nearly all while traveling abroad. The four people in Florida are believed to be first to contract the virus from mosquitoes within the 50 states.
“This is not just a Florida issue. It’s a national issue – we just happen to be at the forefront,” Scott said.
Florida agricultural officials immediately announced more aggressive mosquito-control efforts, and Florida politicians rushed to assure tourists it’s still safe to visit the state. (read more)