1. Health

Bay area Zika investigation closed with no further cases found

Surrounded by Hillsborough county and Florida state officials, Governor Rick Scott spoke to the media following a round table on the Zika virus on Aug. 24 at the Hillsborough County Health Department in Tampa. [MONICA HERNDON   |   Times] 
Surrounded by Hillsborough county and Florida state officials, Governor Rick Scott spoke to the media following a round table on the Zika virus on Aug. 24 at the Hillsborough County Health Department in Tampa. [MONICA HERNDON | Times] 
Published Sep. 27, 2016

TAMPA — At least for now, Tampa Bay is considered officially Zika-free.

Florida Department of Health officials announced Tuesday that they have closed the active investigation into the region's first locally transmitted case of the virus that has been linked to birth defects.

The patient was a Tampa Fire Rescue firefighter who lived in Pinellas, triggering a scramble by health departments on both sides of the bay to contain a potential outbreak.

Since she had not traveled to areas where Zika is widespread, the infection was believed to be the result of a mosquito bite.

But testing of 70 people who had contact with the woman — including her immediate family and at least 25 co-workers — returned negative. That meant neither Pinellas nor Hillsborough met health department criteria to be classified as areas where active transmission is taking place, as occurred in Miami Beach and Miami's Wynwood neighborhood.

The investigation, which was announced as a Pinellas case by Gov. Rick Scott, took 35 days to conclude. Epidemiologists from both the Pinellas and Hillsborough health departments worked together and coordinated with county government mosquito spraying offices to spray and trap around the firefighter's home and workplace.

"Upon testing 70 close contacts and individuals from the community, we have found no additional positive cases," said department spokeswoman Mara Gambineri. "We will continue to be vigilant in our efforts to prevent the spread of Zika in Pinellas and other counties throughout Florida."

Trapped mosquitoes were tested at state Department of Agriculture labs. No mosquitoes caught in both Hillsborough or Pinellas tested positive for Zika, officials there said.

Still, the presence of the virus in the region triggered anxiety among some residents, with health clinics and some local gynecologists reporting an increase in testing requests from pregnant women and those planning to get pregnant.

The refusal of health officials to provide more specific details about where in Pinellas the infected woman lived was questioned by both U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Belleair Bluffs, and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, who said that added to people's apprehension.

While the Pinellas case is now closed, Florida continues to record new cases of Zika virtually every day with the total number of infections statewide now topping 900.

That includes four new locally transmitted cases of Zika in Miami-Dade County that were confirmed on Tuesday.

Health officials are conducting active investigations into locally transmitted cases in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties and mosquitoes are believed to be spreading Zika in Miami Beach.

Last week, Scott announced he will use his emergency powers to allocate an extra $25 million to speed up the development of a Zika vaccine and "innovative, cost-effective" methods to test for the virus. He also made a recent trip to Washington, D.C., to lobby for more federal funding to fight Zika.

But on Tuesday, Democrats in the U.S. Senate blocked a bill that would have allocated $1.1 billion because the bill did not include money for Flint, Mich., to tackle its water contamination crisis.

Contact Christopher O'Donnell at or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.


  1. Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik has invested $3 million in Bridge Connector, a Nashville-based medical technology company.
    Bridge Connector already had ties to Tampa. Its founder graduated from the University of South Florida.
  2. Florida's Baker Act was written in 1971 by Maxine Baker, a 65-year-old grandmother and a freshman Florida legislator from Miami-Dade County, seen here in a 1965 photo. [Associated Press]
    The law was written in 1971 by Maxine Baker, a legislator from Miami-Dade County who pushed for the rights of people with mental illness.
  3. Sarah Henderson with her son, Braden, who was committed under the Baker Act after a joking remark at school. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    A cop car comes. A child is handcuffed and taken to a mental health facility. The scene is all too frequent at public schools across the state.
  4. Congressional aides maneuver a Christmas tree to the office of Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, on Capitol Hill earlier this month. No word on whether they washed it first, but experts say hosing down a live tree can be a good way to keep allergens from causing respiratory problems during the holiday season. [J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE  |  AP]
    Hosing off a live tree or wiping off an artificial one are two ways to keep allergens at bay during the holidays.
  5. A helicopter lands at Tampa General Hospital, one of 66 Florida hospitals that could benefit from a proposal contained in Gov. Ron DeSantis' new budget, a new analysis finds. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Tampa General is among the hospitals that would receive money from a proposal seeking to hand out $10 million in new funding.
  6. Work nears completion Wednesday on a common area inside the new USF Health building that will serve as a centerpiece of the Water Street Tampa development in downtown. The 13-story tower is set to open in January. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    The long-anticipated building, part of Water Street Tampa, will welcome students on Jan. 13.
  7. One way to research options is through Medicare's online Plan Finder, available at [THOMAS TOBIN  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    For those who haven’t reviewed coverage for 2020, there is still time.
  8. North Tampa Behavioral Health in Wesley Chapel [JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |  Times]
    Regulators also found widespread problems with patient care after a Tampa Bay Times investigation into the facility
  9. Lorraine Bonner, a retired Oakland, Calif., doctor who is now a sculptor, says she spent a year recovering after surgical staples were used to seal her colon. A newly uncovered federal database reveals previously hidden problems with the staples that were used in her operation. [HEIDI DE MARCO  |  California Healthline]
    Millions of injuries and malfunctions once funneled to a hidden government database are now available, prompting many to take a closer look.
  10. Employees are paying more for health insurance. [MICHAEL MCCLOSKEY  |  iStockPhoto]
    Employees in only two other states paid more relative to their household income.