Four Zika cases in Florida were likely transmitted by local mosquitoes, the state's Department of Health announced on Friday. It is the first time such Zika cases were not linked to travel outside the U.S. mainland.
Gov. Rick Scott said during a news conference in Orlando that no mosquitoes in the state have tested positive for Zika. But he said it was highly likely that one woman and three men in Miami-Dade and Broward counties contracted the virus through mosquito bites. More than 1,650 Zika infections have been reported in the U.S.
"This is not just a Florida issue. It's a national issue — we just happen to be at the forefront," Scott said.
In a statement, the agency said it believes the infections were not travel-related and occurred in a section north of downtown Miami, in the popular Wynwood arts district.
The infected areas are as follows: between NW 5th Avenue and U.S. 1 to the east and west, and between NW/NE 38th and 20th Streets to the north and south.
"Since the beginning of June, the City's Solid Waste Department has been handing out thousands of flyers in three different languages containing Zika prevention information," the City of Miami said in a statement. "We continue to urge all our residents and business owners to routinely inspect your property and drain any standing water. Also, protect yourselves from mosquito bites by using repellent."
That is the only part of the state currently being tested for potential local transmissions of Zika, Scott said. Women in the area who are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant are urged to contact their doctors and the county health department for Zika prevention kits.
DOH officials are conducting door-to-door tests and collecting samples from people who live there to determine any additional people who could be infected. Those tests came after people went to area hospitals.
Miami-Dade County has reported 96 Zika cases, the most in Florida so far, and Broward County has 55. Until Friday, health officials said all the cases stemmed from international travel.
Since February, over 380 Zika cases related to travel have been confirmed in Florida, including 151 cases in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
"The health and safety of Miami-Dade County’s 2.7 million residents and visitors is my top priority, and that is why we continue to monitor the potential spread of the Zika virus locally," Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said in a statement. "We will keep residents informed as more information becomes available, will continue our time-tested proactive surveillance and monitoring, and remain committed to providing whatever resources are necessary to keep our community safe from the Zika virus."
Zika primarily spreads through bites from tropical mosquitoes, but it also can be spread through sex. In most people, the virus causes only mild illness, but infection during pregnancy can lead to severe brain-related birth defects for the fetus. There is no vaccine.
The tropical mosquito that spreads Zika and other viruses is found in the southern U.S. While health officials have predicted that mosquitoes in the continental U.S. would begin spreading Zika this summer, they also have said they expect only isolated clusters of infections and not widespread outbreaks.
Florida should be able to contain the virus to an isolated area because its neighborhoods have better sanitation and living conditions than countries where Zika outbreaks have been widespread, said Adam Putnam, Florida's commissioner for agriculture and consumer services.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has told blood centers in Miami-Dade and Broward counties to suspend collections until they can screen each unit of blood for the Zika virus with authorized tests. Neighboring counties have been urged to implement the same precautions, and visitors to South Florida in the last month are encouraged to defer donations as well.
Florida's main supplier of blood, OneBlood, said it was working as quickly as possible to comply with the FDA's recommendation and would start testing all its collections for Zika on Friday.The news comes as many Florida officials, including Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio, have pleaded with Congress and President Obama for more funding to fight the potential spread.