The first transmitted infection case of the Zika virus in the Bay area was confirmed Tuesday, although officials have not announced the exact location within Pinellas County as officials conduct a door-to-door search.
Health and government officials are now scrambling to respond to over 400 cases of the Zika virus — a virus that can cause birth defects in pregnant women —in Florida.
"This person did not travel to an infected area with Zika; we are looking at a number of locations," Gov. Rick Scott said at a roundtable in Pinellas County on Tuesday. "Hopefully something good will happen and it will just be a single case. But if we do find out (there’s more), what we will do is we will be very aggressive."
State health officials and Pinellas County Mosquito Control have started “aggressive” spraying, Scott said. This aims to kill the mosquitos within an area in hopes of eliminating the virus.
In response to the rise in cases, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has spent more than $8 million fighting Zika in Florida, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Additionally, Scott set aside $26 million in emergency funds to aid in Zika prevention.
As of Aug. 17, the CDC had located 405 travel-associated cases and 14 locally acquired cases of Zika in Florida. However, the Florida Health Department lists 578 purely travel-related cases, as of Tuesday.
Zika symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, red eyes, muscle pain, headaches and birth defects.
USF is already involved in infectious disease studies and is equipped with a mosquito lab for Malaria reseachwhich could be modified to study Zika. The university even hosted a conference at the Patel College of Global Sustainability at the beginning of the month to discuss the issue, the research being done and the push for a vaccine.
“We’ve got to get the tools to researchers here at USF and other universities across the country because that’s where you do develop the prevention tools, the diagnostic tests, the vaccines,” U.S. Rep Kathy Castor said at the conference. “It’s not really in the (National Institutes of Health) labs, it’s the money that NIH puts out to research universities across the country.”
The state is providing prevention kits that include repellent, mosquito nets and condoms, as well as providing free testing at local health department clinics. Health officials have tested nearly 4,000 people around the state, according to Scott, and have the capacity to test about 6,500 more.
“I want everybody to know knowledgeable,” Scott said. “The thing to know about our state is that we prepare. Whether it’s for a hurricane, whether it’s for a tropical storm, and we did this in February when we had our first travel-related case.”