The Coastal Star

Zika answers: County’s cases don’t constitute outbreak


Q. Where has locally acquired Zika been found so far?
    A. The Florida Department of Health says the two nontravel cases of Zika in Palm Beach County don’t constitute an active outbreak here, though officials aren’t providing specifics.
    Palm Beach County’s Mosquito Control division has stepped up its mosquito control campaign. Its latest aerial spraying efforts were focused on 162,000 acres west of State Road 7, including Jupiter Farms, Caloosa, Loxahatchee, the Acreage, Royal Palm Beach and the Glades. The insecticides Dibrom and Naled are used.
    Meanwhile, the state has been working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Public health workers have tested three individuals who live near one of the infected individuals in Palm Beach County, plus thousands of mosquitoes. Those tests have all been negative, according to the Florida Department of Health.
    Since Zika can be transmitted human-to-human through sexual contact, it’s possible that mosquitoes weren’t the cause of the two local infections.
    So far, Florida’s hot spot for Zika has been the Wynwood section of Miami, a downtown arts district that lies just east of I-95 and south of I-195, the Julia Tuttle Causeway. Twenty-nine people tested positive for Zika exposure there. Meanwhile, five more may have acquired Zika during visits to Miami Beach. The CDC has recommended that pregnant women and their partners avoid the areas. On Aug. 23, Pinellas County also reported one local Zika case.  
    Zika has become a major problem for many Latin American and Caribbean nations, especially Brazil and Puerto Rico. As of late August, the Department of Health was aware of 578 individuals in Florida who probably acquired their illness during international travel, 70 of whom were pregnant.

    Q. How is Zika virus transmitted?
    A. Zika is spread when a virus-laden mosquito bites an infected person, then bites someone else. It can spread when an infected person has unprotected sex, too.
    Not all mosquitoes can carry Zika. Scientists believe it’s primarily the Aedes species of mosquito that’s spreading Zika. While that type of mosquito is here, it’s just one of more than 70 types of mosquitoes found in Florida, and it isn’t the dominant mosquito type in South Florida. So there’s no need to panic if you’re bitten by a mosquito. Condom use by pregnant women’s partners may make sense.

    Q. What are local, state and federal government officials doing about Zika virus?
    A. State/local: Since Aug. 3, county health departments have been offering free Zika risk assessment and testing to pregnant women. The state has created a Zika virus information hotline. The number is 855-622-6735. Palm Beach County, meanwhile, has an aerial spraying hotline, 642-8775.
    Federal: Both President Barack Obama and Gov. Rick Scott have been urging Congress to release more funding for research and prevention of Zika. Congress was close to releasing over $1 billion just before the summer recess, but Senate Democrats blocked the bill when Republicans tacked on politically controversial provisions such as reduced access to contraception, cutting of Ebola research and weakened pesticide regulations.

    Q. What can individuals do to lower their risk of becoming sick with Zika virus?
    A. Mosquitoes breed in standing water. As little as a capful will do. So making regular efforts to eliminate standing water can make a big difference. Shake boat covers. Empty flowerpot dishes. Remove trash. At home, repair screens and keep doors and windows closed and the air conditioning on. Wear long pants and sleeves when you spend time outside, especially at dusk or dawn, and use a bug repellent that contains DEET.
    Condom use helps protect sexually transmitted Zika.

Q. Where did Zika get its name?
    A. Its name comes from the Zika Forest of Uganda, where the virus was first isolated in 1947. Zika virus is related to the dengue, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, and West Nile viruses.

    Q. Where did Zika come from and why is it here now?
    A. Reports of recent Zika outbreaks first emerged from South Pacific nations in 2007. Since then, it has spread to the Western Hemisphere as well. Brazil reported cases in 2015. Puerto Rico is experiencing an especially bad outbreak this summer. Of people tested in urban areas there, two-thirds tested positive for exposure. 

— Stacey Singer

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