On Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott ordered state Surgeon General Dr. John Armstrong to declare a public health emergency in Hillsborough, Lee, Miami-Dade and Santa Rosa counties due to the Zika virus.
Issuing an executive order, Scott noted there were nine cases in Florida, all of which were the result of travel to South America. In parts of that continent, particularly Brazil, mosquitos have transmitted the virus which has caused birth defects by biting pregnant women. Four of the nine cases are in Miami-Dade while Hillsborough and Lee counties reported two apiece and the remaining case taking part in Santa Rosa County.
“Today I am directing Surgeon General Dr. John Armstrong to declare a public health emergency in the four counties that have individuals with the Zika virus,” Scott announced on Wednesday. “Although Florida’s current nine Zika cases were travel-related, we have to ensure Florida is prepared and stays ahead of the spread of the Zika virus in our state. Our Department of Health will continue to be in constant communication with all county health offices, hospitals and the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We know that we must be prepared for the worst even as we hope for the best.”
Scott’s executive order ensures Armstrong contacts Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam to ready mosquito spraying in the four impacted counties. The order also has the state Department of Health (DOH) study the virus and work with the CDC to help combat it.
“Zika virus is spread to people through mosquito bites,” the CDC notes on its website. “The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon. In May 2015, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued an alert regarding the first confirmed Zika virus infection in Brazil. The outbreak in Brazil led to reports of Guillain-Barré syndrome and pregnant women giving birth to babies with birth defects and poor pregnancy outcomes."
The CDC briefed Scott and Armstrong on the matter earlier in the week. After that meeting, the DOH urged Floridians to drain standing water, wear mosquito repellent and use screens for open windows.
“Florida has many years of success in containing other mosquito-borne diseases and emerging health threats,” Armstrong said on Tuesday. “Through these experiences, the department remains ready to protect residents and visitors from the Zika virus.”
Up in Washington, D.C., a senator from Florida insisted at the end of last week that Florida was vulnerable to the virus. While most of his focus is on the presidential race, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., turned his attention on Friday to the outbreak of the Zika virus and how President Barack Obama’s administration plans to handle it.
Rubio wrote Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Gil Kerlikowske on Friday about the matter with concerns on how it could be transmitted from Latin America through ports and airports across the Sunshine State.
“As you know I represent Florida, which is home to millions of people of Latin American descent, many of whom travel regularly to the region or have family, friends or business associates that come visit them here in the U.S.,” Rubio wrote. “In fact, Miami International Airport is widely considered to be the United States' ‘Gateway to the Americas,’ operating over 300 flights to and from Latin America on a typical day totaling over 43,000 passengers – more than any other U.S. airport. In addition, no other U.S. airport operates as many flights to and from Brazil, where the Zika virus is currently most prevalent, than Miami International Airport.
“For years Miami International Airport has struggled with a severe shortage of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) personnel to effectively process all the passengers and cargo coming through the airport in an efficient manner,” Rubio continued. “Based on early reports about the Zika virus, along with the sheer volume of passenger travel and commerce that occurs between Florida and Latin America, the virus' ‘explosive spread’ could further strain an already overburdened workforce at Florida's airports, especially Miami International Airport.”
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