The number of locally transmitted Zika cases has risen to 36, and health officials confirm the mosquito-borne virus is spreading outside the Miami neighborhood that has been the outbreak’s epicenter — and could extend its reach across the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Late last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the Zika virus has spread beyond Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood, where the first homegrown cases in the U.S. emerged. It has now been detected in Miami Beach and the CDC has issued a travel advisory recommending pregnant women avoid traveling to Miami-Dade County.
The advisory also warns that expectant mothers, in particular, avoid a part of Miami Beach where five "homegrown" cases of the virus were confirmed.
Zika is linked to birth defects in unborn children of women infected with the virus, including a condition known as microcephaly that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads. The mosquito-borne virus is also linked to a smaller number of cases involving neurological problems in adults.
Over the weekend, one of the nation’s top public health officials warned that the virus could extend its reach to Gulf Coast states such as Louisiana and Texas, and possibly across the continental United States.
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"It would not be surprising we would see additional cases perhaps in other Gulf Coast states," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the allergy and infectious diseases unit of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in an interview on Sunday with ABC News.
Record flooding this month in Louisiana has boosted the likelihood Zika will spread into that state.
"There's going to be a lot of problems getting rid of standing water" that could stymie the mosquito control efforts that are the best way to control Zika's spread, he said.
Dr. Edward R.B. McCabe, senior vice president and chief medical officer at the March of Dimes, says the increasing Zika cases underscore the need to be on the lookout for symptoms of Zika infection and for greater precautions to prevent the spread of the disease.
“It’s only a matter of time before babies are born with microcephaly, a severe brain defect, due to local transmission of Zika in the continental U.S.,” he tells Newsmax Health. “Our nation must accelerate education and prevention efforts to save babies from this terrible virus. Federal, state and local authorities are doing the best they can with the limited resources available to them, but much more is needed."
Zika has struck hardest in Brazil and has since spread rapidly through the Americas.
The Zika virus can make anyone sick for up to a week with the following flu-like symptoms:
But it's especially dangerous for women who are pregnant because it boosts the risk of babies born with microcephaly, a condition marked by an abnormally small head and incomplete brain development.
It is also believed to be linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome in adults, and preliminary research suggests it may cause neurological disorders in adults, as well.
There is no vaccine or treatment for the virus, making prevention essential. Health experts recommend taking the following precautions:
Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants outdoors.
Eliminate standing water where mosquitoes breed.
Use repellents to keep mosquitoes away.
Use air conditioning and window screens if possible.
Call your healthcare provider if you are at risk of infection.
Last month, Consumer Reports released new rankings of mosquito repellents that offer the best protection against Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes, the type that carry the Zika virus. They tested products containing DEET, oil of lemon eucalyptus and picaridin, among other chemicals and plant oils. The most effective products:
Sawyer Fisherman's Formula Picaridin.
Natrapel 8 Hour, with 20 percent picaridin.
Off! Deepwoods VIII, with 25 percent DEET.
Repel Lemon Eucalyptus.
“We advise skipping products made with natural plant oils, such as California Baby Natural Bug Blend (a blend of citronella, lemongrass oil, cedar oil, and other ingredients) and EcoSmart Organic (which includes geraniol, rosemary oil, cinnamon oil, and lemongrass oil),” the Consumer Reports authors said.
“None lasted for more than 1 hour against Aedes mosquitoes, and some failed almost immediately. In addition, those products are not registered by the Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates skin-applied repellents and evaluates them for safety and effectiveness.”
Women who are pregnant or breast feeding can safely use DEET, picaridin, lemon eucalyptus, and IR3535, according to the EPA.
Other tips for using insect repellents safely and effectively:
Apply repellents sparingly, and only to exposed skin or clothing.
Don’t apply repellents over cuts, wounds, irritated skin, or after shaving.
When applying to your face, spray first on your hands, then rub in, avoiding your eyes and mouth.
Don’t let young children apply repellents themselves.
Don’t use near food, and wash hands after application and before eating.
At the end of the day, wash treated skin with soap and water, and wash treated clothing in a separate wash before wearing again.