Zika in the US: Should I still travel to Florida?

Florida Gov. Rick Scott asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to activate an emergency response team earlier this week after it was confirmed that 14 cases of the Zika virus had been discovered in Florida.

>>READ MORE: How to prevent Zika virus infection

These cases have led federal health officials to warn women who are pregnant or who are planning on becoming pregnant to stay out of the 1-square-mile area north of  downtown Miami, where all 14 cases have  been discovered. (Update: As of Thursday, there are now 15 confirmed cases.)

While the CDC has confirmed more than 1,650 cases of the virus across the United States, these Florida cases represent the first in the United States that were caused by “homegrown” mosquitoes.

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On Thursday, authorities began spraying a 10-square-mile area in South Florida with insecticide.

Here’s a look at the disease and recommendations by health officials on visiting areas where infections have occurred:

What is the Zika virus?

Zika is a virus spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito (Ae. aegypti and Ae. albopictus). About one out of every five people bitten by a mosquito that is carrying the virus will show symptoms of a rash, fever, pink eye and/or joint pain. Generally, the symptoms are very mild.

Any other way it is transmitted?

Other ways of transmission include, a pregnant woman passing Zika to her fetus during pregnancy or birth; a person who is infected with Zika virus can pass it to sex partners.

If it's a mild virus – in terms of how it makes you feel – what’s the big deal?

The major problem with Zika comes when the person who is infected with the virus is pregnant or becomes pregnant. The virus has been linked to microcephaly – a birth defect that causes babies to have smaller heads and abnormal brain development. However,  the disease has also been linked to another disease – Guillain-Barre syndrome. That is a condition that causes muscle weakening.

Should I visit Florida?

According to Florida Gov. Rick Scott, the Zika outbreak there is limited, so far, to a 1-square-mile area north of Miami. Health officials say that the 14 Florida cases are the only ones in the United States that were caused by people being bitten by a “homegrown” mosquito. On that news, federal officials are warning pregnant woman to avoid that specific area of Florida, not the entire state. Last week, officials in England advised pregnant  women to avoid Florida altogether.

What about other states?

The CDC has warned that states in the Southeast in particular will likely see more “homegrown”  Zika virus infections, though none have been reported yet. Texas has reported the first case of sexually-transmitted Zika infection.

What about other countries?    

Currently, Brazil is seeing the majority of the newest cases being diagnosed. However, The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a global public health emergency back in February. The WHO also predicted it had the potential, and likely would, spread to every country in the world except for Canada and Chile. Those countries don’t host the Aedes mosquito.

What can I do to avoid getting bitten?

 Here are some tips from the CDC

  • Prevent Zika by avoiding mosquito bites.
  • Mosquitoes that spread Zika virus bite mostly during the daytime.
  • Mosquitoes that spread Zika virus also spread dengue and chikungunya viruses.
  • Zika can be passed through sex from a person who has Zika to his or her sex partners.Condoms (and other barriers to protect against infection) can reduce the chance of getting Zika from sex.
  • Use insect repellent.
  • Use screens on windows and doors. Repair holes in screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
  • Use air conditioning when available.
  • Once a week, empty and scrub, turn over, cover, or throw out items that hold water, such as tires, buckets, planters, toys, pools, birdbaths, flowerpots, or trash containers. Check inside and outside your home. Mosquitoes lay eggs near water.

Tips for babies and children

  • Always follow instructions when applying insect repellent to children.
  • Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months old.
  • Do not apply insect repellent onto a child's hands, eyes, mouth, and cut or irritated skin.
  • Adults: Spray insect repellent onto your hands and then apply to a child face.
  • Do not use products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or para-menthane-diol (PMD) on children under 3 years old

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