Sen. Bill Nelson tells CDC 'Zika outbreak isn't over'
Following the first case of locally transmitted Zika in 2017, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson wrote a letter to the director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention asking them to prioritize Zika-prevention efforts.
A single case of locally transmitted Zika cropped up in Manatee County on Thursday, according to the Florida Department of Health. A couple who had recently traveled to Cuba are believed to be the ones responsible for bringing the disease back to the state.
One partner, who is believed to have contracted the disease while traveling, was bitten by a mosquito in or around their home, and that mosquito, in return, bit and transmitted the disease to the other partner. A test later revealed a connection between the one partner allegedly infected in Cuba and the one who tested positive in Florida.
The FDOH has said there is no current evidence of ongoing, active transmission of the disease, yet Sen. Nelson on Friday reiterated his concern over the spread of the disease and the threat it poses to Floridians.
"The Zika outbreak isn't over and continues to pose a serious public health threat to Floridians who are already struggling to recover from Hurricane Irma," Nelson said in his letter to Brenda Fitzgerald, Director of CDC.
There have been 187 instances of Zika virus recorded so far this year. A majority of those infections are travel related, however 32 cases are from undetermined exposure in 2016 with positive test results in 2017. Additionally, there are a total of 107 pregnant women proven to have Zika currently in the U.S.
On June 2, the CDC lifted the cautionary, yellow area designation for Miami-Dade County. The designation was removed after more than three mosquito incubation periods passed with no additional confirmed locally-transmitted cases and no suspicion of such.
Gov. Rick Scott met with FDOH earlier this year at the Zika Preparedness Planning Meeting to discuss future efforts in preventing and combating the virus, as an increase in mosquito activity was expected.
“While Florida does not have any identified areas with active Zika transmission, DOH, mosquito control districts and community partners across the state have been tirelessly working together to help combat the spread of this disease and keep our state safe," Scott said during the July meeting. "We know that summer means more rain, more mosquitos, and more travel related cases, and that is why we must continue to take aggressive preparedness actions."
Last year, Scott authorized $25 million in state funds for Zika research and vaccine development. Thirty-four grants were awarded to help expedite the development of a vaccine to prevent Zika infection, according to the FDOH. There has been no successful Zika vaccine produced thus far.
"While there is currently no active transmission in Florida, we remain vigilant and look to our researchers' findings to prevent this virus and it's potentially devastating effects on infants," said Dr. Celeste Phillip, State Surgeon General and Secretary of Health.
Recent storms have raised concern over the increase of mosquitoes due to standing water. Scott has remained vigilant in his efforts to remind the public to dump standing water whenever possible. However, the virus remains an issue whether it is locally transmitted or travel related.
In August, the first sexually transmitted case of Zika was reported in Pinellas County. Similar to the most recent incident, the individual received the disease from a partner who had just returned from Cuba, according to the FDOH.
Included in the comprehensive list of areas which remain at risk for Zika infection are The Bahamas, British Virgin Islands, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and Puerto Rico.
"Given the recent transmission combined with the potential threat of more Zika-carrying mosquitoes in the wake of Hurricane Irma, I ask you to act with a sense of urgency to take steps to prevent further viral spread," Nelson said. "As Florida continues to recover from Hurricane Irma, I remain concerned the increased rain and standing water from the hurricane will only increase the spread of Zika infections this year."
Unfortunately, Zika isn't the only mosquitoe-borne virus threatening Floridians. On Sept. 29, the FDOH in Duval County issued an advisory warning citizens of an increase in mosquito-borne disease activity after one case of Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) was confirmed.
"Last year, I fought for, and Congress ultimately approved, $1.1 billion in funding to respond to the Zika outbreak," Nelson said. "It is critical that we build upon this investment to ensure the resources and personnel are in place to stop the spread of this virus."
To read Sen. Nelson's full letter to the CDC, click HERE.
Follow Jordan Ferrell on Twitter at @J_E_Ferrell.