A person has contracted Zika in Florida despite not traveling to a region affected by the virus, health officials claim.
Until now, there has been no sign that mosquitoes carrying Zika have arrived in the continental US, but officials have warned that the possibility was looming.
It was not immediately clear whether the Miami case involved mosquito bites or sexual contact, since both are known routes of transmission.
Utah is also investigating a non-travel-related case: the carer of an elderly man who died of Zika has contracted the virus.
The US territory of Puerto Rico has also seen a spike in cases in recent months.
The Florida Health Department ‘is conducting an investigation into a possible non-travel related case of Zika virus in Miami-Dade County,’ it said in a statement.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Florida had confirmed a Zika infection, and that the CDC is ‘closely coordinating with Florida officials,’ according to a statement sent to AFP.
The CDC said federal authorities would, upon request, ‘conduct additional laboratory testing.’
As of mid-July, there have been 1,306 cases of Zika in the continental United States, nearly all involving people who had traveled to areas in Latin America and the Caribbean basin that are affected by the current outbreak.
Fourteen of the cases were transmitted by sexual contact between those who had traveled and their US-based partners.
Earlier this week, a case emerged in Utah in which a caregiver appeared to have been infected by an elderly patient, though the exact route of transmission remains unknown.
Zika is a concern because if a pregnant woman is infected, she faces a higher risk of bearing a child with microcephaly, in which the skull and brain are malformed and smaller than normal.
The ‘CDC has been working with state, local, and territorial health officials to prepare for the possibility of locally acquired Zika infection in the United States,’ the agency said.
‘To date, CDC has provided Florida more than $2 million in Zika-specific funding and about $27 million in emergency preparedness funding that can be used toward Zika response efforts.’
The Florida Department of Health said Zika prevention kits and repellent would be available for pickup at the health department and distributed in the area being studied.
‘Zika kits are intended for pregnant women,’ the health department said.
‘Mosquito control has already conducted reduction and prevention activities in the area of investigation.’
Zika virus can cause a variety of symptoms, including rash and joint and muscle pain, but often carries no symptoms at all.
It can also trigger Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which leads the immune system to attack the nerves and may lead to paralysis.
The virus was first identified in 1947 but is poorly understood, and there remains no vaccine to prevent it or medicine to treat it.
Officials urge pregnant women to avoid traveling to Zika-affected areas and to wear mosquito repellent to reduce the risk of being bitten.
Condoms or abstinence are also recommended to reduce the risk of infection by people traveling to or living in places where Zika is circulating.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ZIKA
WHAT IS ZIKA?
The Zika (ZEE’-ka) virus was first discovered in monkey in Uganda in 1947 – its name comes from the Zika forest where it was first discovered.
It is native mainly to tropical Africa, with outbreaks in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands.
It appeared in Brazil in 2014 and has since been reported in many Latin American countries and Caribbean islands.
The World Health Organization says Zika is rapidly spreading in the Americas because it is new to the region, people aren’t immune to it, and the Aedes aegypti mosquito that carries it is just about everywhere
HOW IS IT SPREAD?
It is typically transmitted through bites from the same kind of mosquitoes – Aedes aegypti – that can spread other tropical diseases, like dengue fever, chikungunya and yellow fever.
Scientists have found Zika can be transmitted sexually. The World Health Organization recently warned the mode of transmission is ‘more common than previously assumed’.
Couples should abstain or wear condoms for eight weeks if either partner has traveled to a country with a Zika outbreak, regardless of whether they have symptoms.
During the current outbreak, the first case of sexually transmitted Zika was reported in Texas, at the beginning of February.
The patient became infected after sexual contact with a partner diagnosed with the virus after traveling to an affected region.
Now, health officials in the US are investigating more than a dozen possible cases of Zika in people thought to be infected during sex.
There are also reported cases in France and Canada.
Prior to this outbreak, scientists reported examples of sexual transmission of Zika in 2008.
A researcher from Colorado, who caught the virus overseas, is thought to have infected his wife, on returning home.
And records show the virus was found in the semen of a man in Tahiti.
On Friday July 15, it was confirmed that women can pass the virus to men after such a case was seen in New York City.
The World Health Organization says Zika is rapidly spreading in the Americas because it is new to the region, people aren’t immune to it, and the Aedes aegypti mosquito that carries it is just about everywhere – including along the southern United States.
Canada and Chile are the only places without this mosquito.
ARE THERE SYMPTOMS?
The majority of people infected with Zika virus will not experience symptoms.
Those that do, usually develop mild symptoms – fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes – which usually last no more than a week.
There is no specific treatment for the virus and there is currently no vaccine to protect against infection, though several are in the developmental stages.
WHY IS IT A CONCERN NOW?
In Brazil, there has been mounting evidence linking Zika infection in pregnant women to a rare birth defect called microcephaly, in which a newborn’s head is smaller than normal and the brain may not have developed properly.
Brazilian health officials last October noticed a spike in cases of microcephaly in tandem with the Zika outbreak.
The country said it has confirmed more than 860 cases of microcephaly – and that it considers them to be related to Zika infections in the mother.
Brazil is also investigating more than 4,200 additional suspected cases of microcephaly.
However, Brazilian health officials said they had ruled out 1,471 suspected cases in the week ending March 19.
Now Zika has been conclusively proven to cause microcephaly.
The WHO also stated that researchers are now convinced that Zika is responsible for increased reports of a nerve condition called Guillain-Barre that can cause paralysis.
A team of Purdue University scientists recently revealed a molecular map of the Zika virus, which shows important structural features that may help scientists craft the first treatments to tackle the disease.
The map details vital differences on a key protein that may explain why Zika attacks nerve cells – while other viruses in the same family, such as dengue, Yellow Fever and West Nile, do not.
CAN THE SPREAD BE STOPPED?
Individuals can protect themselves from mosquito bites by using insect repellents, and wearing long sleeves and long pants – especially during daylight, when the mosquitoes tend to be most active, health officials say.
Eliminating breeding spots and controlling mosquito populations can help prevent the spread of the virus.