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CDC asks pregnant women to avoid Miami area linked to Zika cases

Federal officials on Monday warned pregnant women or those planning pregnancies to avoid a one-square-mile zone north of downtown Miami after it was confirmed that South Florida mosquitoes infected 10 more people with the Zika virus.

It's likely the first time the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged people to avoid a part of the continental United States due to an infectious disease outbreak. A total of 14 cases have been confirmed by state health officials, with 12 stemming from Miami's Wynwood arts district, according to Gov. Rick Scott.

Those dozen Wynwood cases are believed to arise from a 150-yard area surrounding an unidentified "workplace," said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during a Monday conference call with reporters. Officials didn't say where the other two cases originated.

A team of eight CDC experts is on its way to assist state health officials and local mosquito control units combating the spread of the virus.

Frieden told reporters that since Friday it's become clear that "aggressive mosquito control measures don't seem to be working as well as we would like."

If pregnant women are infected, Zika can cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly, in which a baby is born with a much smaller head than is normal. It is spread by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, which can transfer it from one infected person to another. Zika also can be transmitted by sex.

The CDC recommended that pregnant women or those thinking about pregnancy be tested for Zika if they have visited the Wynwood area any time since June 15. It also told couples who have been there recently to put off having children for at least two months.

A local mosquito likely picked up the virus after biting someone who had contracted Zika while traveling abroad, health department spokeswoman Sarah Revell said.

State officials are continuing to fight the spread of the disease by urging people to be tested for Zika if they have spent time within the one-square-mile area. Its boundaries are Northwest Fifth Avenue to the west, U.S. Route 1 to the east, Northwest/Northeast 38th Street to the north and Northwest/Northeast 20th Street to the south.

Scott met Tuesday in Pinellas Park with local officials to discuss the state's Zika response. He also spoke via phone with state agency heads about Zika preparedness. Reporters were not allowed on the call.

In Pinellas Park and later on Fox News, Scott put blame squarely on the federal government for not approving additional money to fight Zika.

"The federal government has not been a good partner," he said on Fox News. "The White House and Congress have to come together and work together no differently than I have to work with my Legislature and make sure they get things done."

Federal officials, too, have called for increased funding.

A spokesman for President Barack Obama said Monday that the CDC's efforts to fight Zika were hampered because Congress left for a seven-week recess without approving additional spending.

U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio, a Republican, and Bill Nelson, a Democrat, have both been outspoken about the need to pass Zika funding. Nelson sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, urging him to reconvene the chamber Friday to pass an emergency spending bill.

In Clearwater on Monday, Rubio called for Congress to return to Washington, D.C., for one day to approve $1.1 billion for Zika.

"This is a health care issue. It's also an economic issue," he said. "You begin to get concerned about visitors from abroad reading the news, or even from the U.S., and deciding maybe Florida's not the place to go because of Zika. We don't want to see that happen."

Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam ordered mosquito control units to spray around patients' homes, and his office distributed more than 300 traps to capture mosquitoes for testing. No Florida mosquitoes have tested positively for Zika.

In addition to the 14 cases contracted from local mosquitoes, there are 388 confirmed travel-related Zika infections in Florida, mostly in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, according to the state Department of Health. Ten of the infections are in Hillsborough County and seven are in Pinellas. Fifty-five cases involve pregnant women.

Because four in five cases show no symptoms, Frieden said public health workers have to counteract apathy among at-risk people who don't see Zika as an urgent threat.

"The problem is six, seven, eight months away when a baby with microcephaly is delivered," Frieden said. "But the tragedy of a preventable case of a severe birth defect is something that we have to make very clear to people."

Times staff writers Hannah Jeffrey and Jack Suntrup contributed to this report. Contact Michael Auslen at mauslen@tampabay.com. Follow @MichaelAuslen.

CDC asks pregnant women to avoid Miami area linked to Zika cases 08/01/16 [Last modified: Monday, August 1, 2016 11:11pm]
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