This marks the first time public health officials have advised Americans not to travel within the U.S. due to a health risk
Ever since the mosquito-borne Zika virus first become a buzz word (no pun intended), the situation has only escalated, especially with the Rio Olympics just around the corner. While officials have warned pregnant women to avoid traveling to certain Zika-affected countries in Latin America and the Caribbean for months, as of today, the virus has now become a domestic travel concern as well. (Need a refresher? 7 Things You Should Know About the Zika Virus.)
U.S. health officials are currently advising pregnant women not to travel to a Miami neighborhood (just north of downtown), where Zika is currently being spread by mosquitos. As for pregnant couples living in the area, the CDC recommends they avoid mosquito bites with long-sleeved clothing and pants and use repellent with DEET.
This comes after Florida officials confirmed last week that four people had been infected with the Zika virus by local mosquitoes—the first known cases of the virus being transmitted by mosquitoes within the continental U.S., rather than the result of travel abroad or sexual contact. (Related: The First Case of Female-to-Male Zika Transmission Was Found In NYC.)
"Zika is now here," said Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at Friday's news briefing. While Frieden did not initially advise pregnant women to avoid traveling to the area, the situation quickly escalated over the weekend, causing health officials to change their tune. As it stands, 14 people in the area are currently infected with the virus from local mosquitoes, bringing the total confirmed count in the continental U.S. up to more than 1,600 (as of May, this included nearly 300 pregnant women too).
Health workers have been going door to door in the Miami neighborhood collecting urine samples to test residents, and the FDA has halted blood donations in South Florida until they can be screened for Zika. After being urged by Florida governor Rick Scott, the CDC is also sending an emergency response team to Miami to help the state health department with their investigation.
While researchers had long predicted Zika would eventually reach the continental U.S. (most likely along the Gulf coast), Congress has yet to respond to the situation by providing more funding to fight the infection, which has a proven link to serious birth defects. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who voted for the funding request, is urging Congress to pass the funding bill in August, the New York Times reports. Fingers crossed lawmakers can get their act together.