The final time Gov. Rick Scott warned Floridians about the potential menace of the mosquito-borne virus was in July, when he urged residents to nonetheless be vigilant towards bug bites and standing water. At the time, docs and researchers have been bracing for what was supposed to be one other lively summer time season for the virus. Some anticipated it to be even worse than final yr, when 1,100 travel-related instances have been reported statewide and Zika unfold into pockets of South Florida.
But it has been quiet on the outbreak entrance ever since, as Zika instances have dropped dramatically this yr.
The state Health Department counts solely 180 Zika infections in Florida to date in 2017, on monitor to are available properly under the 1,456 instances reported all of final yr. The overwhelming majority are travel-related instances introduced to Florida by individuals who got here from elsewhere, like Zika hotbed areas in Central and South America or the Caribbean, already contaminated with the virus. The relaxation, about 40, have been instances the place officers couldn’t decide precisely the place the sufferers contracted the virus or situations the place individuals acquired it regionally final yr however weren’t examined till 2017.
Officials say they’ve decided one factor for positive: This yr, there are not any reported areas in Florida with lively, ongoing native transmission of Zika, which suggests no recognized situations of mosquitoes carrying the virus.
Another piece of excellent information is that the variety of pregnant women with the virus seems to be declining. With solely 101 instances reported thus far this yr, it might be troublesome to match final yr’s complete of 299 instances.
Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting simply 254 instances of Zika, down dramatically from the 5,000-plus instances the company tracked final yr, stated Ben Beard, a deputy incident supervisor from the CDC Zika response group.
“Zika spread so quickly last year because we were so naive to this virus. We’d never seen it here before,” Beard stated. “The epidemic has died down in Latin America, and people have been proactive in warmer weather communities in the U.S. like Florida, Texas, Alabama and Louisiana, where the mosquito populations are greater.”
But researchers say this doesn’t suggest Floridians ought to let down their guard. There’s nonetheless no vaccine for Zika, neither is there a drugs to deal with those that are contaminated, stated Dr. Beata Casanas, an infectious illness professional and affiliate professor at the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine.
In addition, most federal funding for Zika analysis ran out earlier this yr, and future funding is unclear.
“So far we’ve been very lucky,” Casanas stated. “There have been no new or current cases, even after the hurricane, when we anticipated more mosquitoes because of flooding.”
In the Tampa Bay space, native mosquito management businesses activated Zika hotlines and added extra frequent routes to maintain mosquito populations underneath management, particularly throughout the wet summer time months. County degree mosquito management and health division teams have been internet hosting group occasions to unfold Zika consciousness and supply prevention ideas.
Most preparedness ideas boil down to making use of bug spray and dumping standing water from flower pots after a storm. County businesses work intently with the Florida Department of Health and supply free Zika testing for pregnant women.
“It’s not the large bodies of water that you have to worry about, like rivers overflowing after the hurricane,” Casanas stated. “It’s the small containers, like flower pots, where mosquitoes tend to breed. It’s the small places we don’t often think about.”
Signs about the Zika virus are nonetheless current in airports and vacationer locations, warning Americans not to journey to nations the place outbreaks are nonetheless being reported.
“Pregnant women, or women who want to become pregnant, and their spouses are still strongly urged not to go where Zika is prevalent,” Casanas stated. “We have several studies underway for treatment and vaccinations for Zika and hopefully we’ll be successful. Meanwhile we’re trying to reduce the barriers for Zika testing and screening.”
In addition to mosquito bites, Zika additionally may be transmitted sexually via a associate who’s contaminated.
A CDC evaluation discovered the danger to pregnant women is far larger than researchers initially thought. One in 10 pregnant women with confirmed Zika infections in the United States final yr had a child or fetus with critical start defects.
Screenings for Zika are free for pregnant women by means of their personal health care supplier or the native division of health workplace, however Casanas hopes that screenings shall be free for everybody quickly.
“For women who are pregnant or want to become pregnant, it is so important that their partner is tested too,” she stated. “We’re finding that the virus can live longer in men’s semen, which is why we say that men should abstain from sex if infected for up to six months. But we’re finding that it may even need to be longer.”
Noting that journey is the issue that the majority impacts the variety of Zika instances in the United States, Casanas stated she’s stunned at how many individuals nonetheless appear prepared to go to locations the place the virus is current.
“The U.S. has more resources than these countries in Central and South America. They don’t have the same infrastructure we do to fight against it,” Casanas stated. “All we can do is continue to educate the public and hope they don’t take the risk. Unfortunately many still choose to.”
Zika is not going away, warned Beard from the CDC, and he urged Americans not to get complacent now that the numbers are decrease.
“It’s still circulating through Latin America and being transmitted locally in Mexico, which is very close to home,” he stated. “I’d like to say that next year we’ll see even less cases, but we don’t know that because the virus isn’t gone. Prevention is the only way.”
Contact Justine Griffin at email@example.com or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.
Where the instances are
Even although 2017 just isn’t over, it seems the variety of Zika instances in Florida is in critical decline in contrast to final yr. Here is a take a look at the variety of travel-related Zika instances reported to date this yr in the Tampa Bay space and different chosen counties.
Note: These figures embrace pregnant women and non-Florida residents who acquired Zika outdoors of Florida, however have been recognized in Florida.
Source: Florida Department of Health