Zika Virus in Florida: What You Need to Know
Officials with the World Health Organization have predicted there will be 4 million cases of the Zika virus in the Americas in 2016. The greatest number of cases are expected in Hawaii and states along the Gulf Coast, with Florida perhaps leading the way. Up through the first half of year, more than 1,600 cases of Zika had been confirmed throughout the country. However, all of those cases were travel-related and not the result of mosquitoes in the U.S. That ended in early August with 14 cases reported in south Florida. That rash of Zika cases led to an unusual travel warning from federal officials, in addition a number of precautions that have been in place since earlier in the year.
Florida travel warning. Health officials issued a warning for pregnant women to avoid traveling to Miami – the 14 cases were grouped in the Wynwood arts district. Experts said the warning was the first-ever travel advisory within the United States issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition to the travel warning, health officials asked couples who live or have visited that area of Miami to delay any pregnancy plans for at least two months.
Public Health Emergency. In early February, Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order declaring a public health emergency for the first counties where travel-related cases of Zika were reported. That declaration allowed Florida Surgeon General and Secretary of Health Dr. John Armstrong to work directly with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for resources that may be necessary – from information brochures to testing kits for the virus. Additionally, the emergency increased the amount of mosquito spraying – including in residential areas – designed to control the Aedes aegypti mosquito that is known to spread Zika, as well as yellow fever and the dengue virus.
Zika Hotline. Any current Florida resident or visitor can call the hotline for information about the virus. The hotline is staffed at all times by a live operation, and while offering information is the top goal, Florida officials have said they hope the hotline can stop any panic connected to Zika. Hotline technicians can answer most basic questions about Zika and have numbers for every county health department so that a caller can talk to a local official. The hotline is 1-855-622-6735.
Mosquito control. Officials throughout Florida – beyond just Miami-Dade County – have launched education efforts for residents and businesses to control the mosquito population. In addition to the use of EPA-registered repellant, residents can reduce the risk of a mosquito bite by removing any standing water around their home – including locations such as plant pots, tires and gutters – since the mosquito needs only a very small amount of water to breed.