South Florida Likely to See Small-Scale Zika Outbreaks
The first cases of zika have been confirmed in Florida, and experts say more small-scale outbreaks are likely here.
At least three cases of the virus have been confirmed in Florida, including two in Miami-Dade County, according to multiple news reports. Matthew DeGennaro, a mosquito researcher at Florida International University, says he expects to see more cases, although the outbreaks will not be nearly as large as the ones ravaging the Americas.
"You get these little pockets, but it’s not like it’s spreading across the whole county or the whole city," DeGennaro says.
Zika causes flu-like symptoms in adults, and children and may also be linked to microcephaly, a birth defect that can result in incomplete brain development.
Since May 2015, more than 1.4 million cases of the virus have been identified in South America, with most infections occurring in Brazil. World Health Organization experts, who on Thursday described the virus as "spreading explosively," say there could be as many as three to four million zika infections in the next year.
DeGennaro says zika outbreaks in South Florida would probably originate with travelers who contract the virus in Latin America, then come to the U.S. He said any outbreaks would be small, and would likely follow the pattern of chikungunya and dengue outbreaks here.
That’s because Florida has better mosquito control than most Latin American countries do.
"We live in these air-conditioned homes that have screens; we have active mosquito control programs that are reducing mosquito population," DeGennaro said. "People are aware -- or, I hope they’re aware -- that you shouldn’t leave standing water around."
DeGennaro said Florida residents shouldn't panic about zika. He warns, though, that El Niño rains could lead to an increase in South Florida's mosquito population this year because mosquitoes breed best in wet, humid conditions.
DeGennaro's research focuses on modifying mosquitoes' genes to reduce the insects' attraction to humans.