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The Zika threat has waned. But with summer rains on the way, officials still urge caution.

An Aedes Aegypti mosquito in the lab at Pinellas County Mosquito Control, where officials studied the species after an outbreak of Zika. While the threat of the virus has waned over the last two summers, officials still urge caution. [JIM DAMASKE | Times]
Published Jun. 6, 2018

As more rain threatens to drench Tampa Bay in the coming days, health officials warn Florida residents and visitors to be vigilant against Zika, even though the threat of the virus has waned.

The Florida Department of Health reports 44 cases of the mosquito-borne illness so far this year, with no local cases or current active zones. That means there are no known instances of mosquitoes carrying the virus.

Last year, Florida saw 262 cases of Zika, with two developing locally and 225 travel-related cases. Of those, 136 were pregnant women and three babies were born in the state with congenital Zika syndrome. Compare that to 2016, when there were 1,471 cases of Zika in Florida with 300 local cases, 1,122 travel cases and 299 pregnant women affected by the virus.

While the number of outbreaks related to Zika have dropped dramatically since its peak in 2016, Floridians shouldn't let down their guard, health officials say.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Whatever happened to the Zika epidemic?

"We go door to door to educate the citizens and dump containers. We are actively inspecting and treating every day," said Glen-Paul Edson with Pinellas County Mosquito Control, which works with the county's health department to educate people about Zika. "We are inspecting and treating breeding sites all over the county, large and small, by hand and by helicopter. When needed, we are running fogging missions from 2:30 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. to knock down the adult (mosquitoes). But we concentrate our efforts at the larval level in the water to avoid potential nuisance and virus transmission potential."

As of June, no local inspectors are operating under any "special response" to Zika because there are no reported outbreaks in the county, Edson said.

In addition to mosquito bites, Zika also can be transmitted sexually through a partner who is infected.

There's still no vaccine for Zika, nor is there a medicine to treat those who are infected, which makes the virus dangerous and contagious, especially to pregnant women. Infants infected with Zika while still in the womb can suffer severe birth defects, including brain damage.

It's recommended to apply bug spray and dump standing water from flower pots after a storm. Local health departments and private health care providers offer free Zika testing for pregnant women.

The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention have released special guidelines for residents in Miami-Dade County and Brownsville, Texas, which were hotbeds of Zika activity in previous years. So far this year, the CDC has identified 21 cases of Zika in travelers returning to the U.S. from affected areas. No cases have been acquired on U.S. soil through mosquito or sexual transmission.

Travel to areas such as Mexico and Central and South America, where Zika is prevalent, is discouraged for pregnant women, or women who want to become pregnant, and their spouses.

Contact Justine Griffin at jgriffin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.

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