One square mile of a Miami neighborhood has become the ground zero of “locally transmitted’’ Zika virus cases in the continental United States.
That’s the first area in the 50 states where a local mosquito has infected a person with the virus, which can cause catastrophic brain damage in fetuses.
Before the Wynwood neighborhood cases surfaced, there had been about 1,600 Zika cases in the United States, and all of them were associated in some way with people who had traveled outside the country.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Tuesday that four more people have acquired the Zika virus locally, probably from mosquito bites in the Wynwood neighborhood. That brings the total number of non-travel-related cases of the Zika virus in Florida to 21.
All 51 Zika cases in Georgia are travel-related, public health officials here said Tuesday.
That number has stayed steady, Cherie Drenzek, state epidemiologist for the Department of Public Health, told GHN after an agency board meeting. Two of the cases in Georgia are pregnant women.
She and other health officials in Georgia and in other Southern states are watching the situation in Florida carefully.
The primary carrier of the virus is the Aedes aegypti mosquito. That insect is more prevalent in Florida than here, Drenzek said, adding, “The risk is certainly different here than in Florida.’’
Florida reaches closer to the tropics than any other state in the continental U.S., and Aedes aegypti is basically a tropical insect. So it’s no surprise that South Florida is where a U.S. outbreak occurred. But Georgia is not out of the risk zone.
Georgia health officials said they have found a handful of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in a single trap in the Columbus area. “We’re watching that area,’’ Chris Kumnick, a Public Health official, told the agency board.
Mosquito season in Georgia usually ends in October, officials said.
Preparing for the possibility of local transmission, Public Health in Georgia has contracted with a private mosquito control company. The agency is also planning to release a 50-page response plan for health officials in districts around the state. And it’s prepared to set up a call center in case of an emergency.
The most important message, Drenzek said, is to protect pregnant women, who should be “well aware where Zika transmission is ongoing.”
The Florida cases have led to an increase in calls from ob/gyns in Georgia and others interested in getting more information, she said.
Last week the Atlanta-based CDC took the unprecedented step of warning pregnant women to avoid the square-mile area of Wynwood.
According to the New York Times, Dr. Lyle R. Petersen, who is managing the Zika response of the CDC, said, “Obviously when people detect local transmission, there’s a lot of different opinions. People panic and there’s potential for irrational thinking in either direction, not doing enough and doing too much.”
Petersen said because the continental United States has better mosquito control, more air conditioning and less standing water than other countries dealing with the Zika virus, there are most likely to be only “handfuls of local transmission and very rare outbreaks,” which will be containable with a targeted response, the Times reported.
“It’s not the whole city — it’s a very small part of the city,” Dr. Petersen said of the possible risk in Miami. “So the recommendation is just don’t go there, particularly if you’re pregnant. In the rest of the city, you’re more likely to get killed in a car crash than you are to get Zika virus.”