Florida health officials monitoring Zika virus

OKEECHOBEE — There are currently 16 active cases of the Zika virus in Florida, Tiffany Collins of the Okeechobee County Health Department reported to the Okeechobee County Commissioners at their Feb. 11 meeting.

All of the Florida cases are travel related, according to the Florida Department of Health.

There are no active cases of Zika in Okeechobee County at this time, she said.

Florida’s Public Health Laboratories have the capability to test for Zika virus, she said. They can test for active cases and can also test for antibodies to indicate if a person had Zika in the past, she explained.

Zika virus primarily spreads to people through an infected bite of a mosquito, she said.

Only one in five infected persons shows symptoms, which include a rash, fever, joint pain and red eyes.

The symptoms are generally mild and last a few days to a week, at which time virus leaves the body, she said.

The type of mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus are common in Florida, she said.

The virus has raised concerns recently due to a suspected connection between Zika virus and microcephaly, a birth defect that leaves newborns with abnormally small skulls.

None of the 16 cases in Florida involve pregnant women, said Ms. Collins.

She said the Health Department encourages all residents and visitors to protect themselves from all mosquito borne illnesses by dumping standing water, covering windows and doors with screens, and protecting themselves with clothing and insect repellent when they are outdoors.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order on Feb. 3 directing State Surgeon General John Armstrong to declare a public health emergency for the counties whose residents have travel-related cases of Zika, including Broward, Hillsborough, Lee, Miami-Dade, Osceola, Santa Rosa and St. Johns.

The Executive Order designated the Department of Health as the lead state agency to coordinate emergency response activities and to notify the Commissioner of Agriculture who will issue a mosquito declaration in affected counties.  It also directs DEP and FWCC to support DACS in mosquito control plans to contain the spread of this illness in partnership with Florida’s counties, cities and mosquito control districts.

According to the Center for Disease Control, during the first week of infection, Zika virus can be found in the blood and passed from an infected person to a mosquito through mosquito bites. An infected mosquito can then spread the virus to other people.

While Zika is most commonly transmitted by mosquitoes, according to the CDC, it may also be sexually transmitted.

The CDC has issued travel advisories for areas where Zika has been reported: Caribbean, including Barbados, Curaçao, Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Saint Martin and U.S. Virgin Islands; Central America, including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama: Mexico; Pacific Islands including American Samoa, Somao and Tonga; and South America, including Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Suriname and Venezuela.

Pregnant women, and women who are planning to become pregnant soon, should avoid travel to these areas if possible, according to the CDC. If you must travel to one of these areas, talk to your doctor first and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during your trip. If you have a male partner who lives in or has traveled to an area where Zika transmission is ongoing, either abstain from sex or use condoms consistently and correctly for the duration of your pregnancy.

Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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