One hundred and two people in Florida have been affected by the Zika virus since February, including seven pregnant women whose unborn children face the largest risk. Anti-Zika efforts are ramping up along the Gulf Coast, which 60 million people call home.
In the western Panhandle, only one case of the virus has been found, that was in Santa Rosa County, and the unidentified patient has since made a full recovery.
Dr. John Lanza, who directs the Florida Department of Health in Escambia County, says for the most part, the current Zika cases in the U.S. (except for those sexually-transmitted) were not locally acquired.
“These are all travel-related; in other words, someone went to Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Brazil,” said Lanza. “There are 54 countries and territories in the United States that have locally-acquired cases.”
But, Lanza is quick to add that may change over time, and locally-acquired Zika cases in Escambia County may not be a question of “if,” but of “when.” The main issue is paying for substantive measures to halt, or at least slow, Zika’s Gulf Coast presence. Florida’s two U.S. Senators are pressing colleagues to pass President Obama’s proposal to spend almost $2 billion to fight the spread of Zika.
“The World Health Organization declares this a public health emergency of international concern,” Nelson said on the Senate Floor earlier this month. “The last time the World Health Organization said that, it was for Ebola.”
Senator Marco Rubio, also speaking on the House floor, supported the funding proposal, and asked fellow House members to follow suit ASAP and put party ideology aside.
“This is not a political issue; there is no such thing as a Republican position on Zika or a Democrat [sic] position on Zika,” said Rubio. “These mosquitoes bite everyone, and they’re not going to ask what your party registration is, or who you plan to vote for in November.”
So far, Rubio is the lone Republican senator to support the President’s proposal. Governor Rick Scott is planning to go to Washington to urge an end to what he calls “political grandstanding,” and for lawmakers to give rapid approval to the funds.
Florida’s Surgeon General, Dr. John Armstrong, is calling on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide 1,000 antibody testing kits.
“What the antibody test does, is to tell us that somebody had Zika,” said Armstrong. “That’s particularly important for pregnant women who traveled abroad, who might have had some symptoms of a rash, a fever.”
Meanwhile, Florida agriculture officials are distributing mosquito traps to areas that lack surveillance for the species that carries the Zika virus. Mosquitoes caught in the traps will also be tested for dengue and chikungunya in a state lab, where monitoring for animal viruses now includes those diseases.