On Thursday, a second suspected Zika infection case was reported in Broward County. The news came after just two days when the Florida Department of Health announced a similar infection case in Miami-Dade. This made South Florida the possible epicenter of the United States' first local Zika outbreak.
Celeste Philip, Florida's surgeon general, asked the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to deploy a medical epidemiologist to help in the current investigation of the second suspected Zika infection.
Health officials also asked residents living in Broward and Miami-Dade to cooperate with the requests to submit urine and blood samples so investigators will know the number of potentially infected individuals. The exact areas being investigated in Broward and Miami-Dade have not been disclosed.
Officials have set up traps for the mosquitoes in the area where the infected individual resides. These captured mosquitoes were submitted to the Florida Gulf Coast University's lab for testing.
According to a health official involved in the ongoing investigation, no captured mosquitoes from Miami-Dade yielded positive for the Zika virus.
If the suspected Zika infections are confirmed, these would mark the first documented, locally transmitted Zika infections in continental U.S.
Officials from both state and local governments have been searching for the presence of Zika virus in local mosquitoes in the past months. Traps were placed near the homes of infected patients that were confirmed by health departments. The same areas are being targeted not just for inspection but also for spraying and monitoring.
There are dozens of mosquito species in Florida, but officials are most concerned about the Aedes aegypti species, which are the known carriers of the Zika virus. The announcement of the suspected Zika cases has caused many people to up their mosquito control efforts.
For instance, county mosquito control inspector Larry Smart uses a turkey baster to take samples of standing water in hard-to-reach areas in a Miami neighborhood. In a Miami residence, Smart discovered mosquito larvae swimming in standing water in the bromeliad leaves, a flowering plant that is quite common in South Florida gardens and yards.
"They'll breed in there and become adults. A lot of people don't realize that a plant like that is renowned for mosquitoes," said Smart.
However, local epidemiologist Aileen Marty said that more actions are needed to keep an outbreak at bay following a local virus transmission.
"You have to test people. Testing the mosquitoes is one thing. Think about how many mosquitoes there are and what percentage gets tested," added Marty, who is also an infectious diseases professor and physician at the Florida International University's Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine.
Photo: James Willamor | Flickr