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Five Zika cases in Miami Beach; CDC advises pregnant women to stay away

MIAMI – There are five new local cases of Zika in Miami Beach and a new 1.5-square-mile transmission zone from the beach to the Intracoastal Waterway, Florida Gov. Rick Scott confirmed Friday during a Miami visit to talk about the virus.

The new cases involve three tourists and two local residents, Scott said during a news conference. The new zone runs from Eighth Street to 28th Street in Miami Beach, he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with Florida health department, quickly issued a travel advisory after the news conference, telling pregnant women to avoid the Miami Beach Zika transmission area. The recommendation follows an earlier one for the Wynwood area affected by the virus. The CDC also said pregnant women who were in the transmission zone of Miami Beach since July 14 should see their doctor to consider being tested for Zika.

Local officials learned of the Miami Beach cases on Thursday morning during calls with Florida Department of Health on Thursday to alert them.

But as late as Thursday evening, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine denied that Zika was in his city, the heart of Miami-Dade’s tourism industry.

“There is no epidemic, no outbreak of Zika in Miami Beach,” he said, shortly after arriving from a trip to New York late Thursday.

And the health department also said Thursday that the only place in Florida with active spread of the disease was a one-square-mile zone in Wynwood.

But the discussions on Thursday morning between the county health department and Miami Beach officials, along with an email from City Manager Jimmy Morales, indicate that Zika is spreading in Miami Beach and already may have met CDC guidelines for confirmed transmission of the disease.

Those guidelines define a local outbreak as two or more people infected who do not share a household, with travel and sexual transmission ruled out, and who acquired the disease within one square mile over a period of two weeks or more.

The first word to local officials came from the state health department, which alerted them to the local Zika cases on Thursday morning.

By noon, Morales had informed Miami Beach commissioners by email that two people had acquired the disease, though he did not identify whether the cases were within a one-mile diameter of each other.

“I have been informed that two Zika cases have been linked to Miami Beach, one a tourist who visited the Beach approximately two weeks ago, and another a resident who also works on the Beach,” Morales said in the email sent to commissioners at 11:22 a.m.

At 4:45 p.m., Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s office issued a press release announcing that, “Today, the Florida Department of Health (DOH) has confirmed that two additional individuals have acquired the Zika virus locally through mosquitoes in Miami-Dade County.”

Scott’s announcement included a series of new measures to help restaurants, hotels and other tourism industry attractions with Zika prevention measures, including distribution of educational materials and spraying their businesses for mosquitoes at the state’s expense.

At 5 p.m., the Florida health department issued its daily Zika report, announcing that two new local Zika infections had been confirmed in Miami-Dade, both of them outside of Miami’s Wynwood area. The report did not give a more specific location for the two cases, and the health department did not respond to questions about Zika spreading in Miami Beach.

Florida has confirmed 35 cases of local transmission of Zika. Statewide, a total of 577 people in Florida have contracted the disease, mostly through travel abroad, according to the health department. At least 63 pregnant women in Florida have contracted the disease, which can cause severe birth defects.

South Florida’s hospitality industry has dreaded the possibility of Zika spreading to Miami Beach because the region’s economy relies heavily on its $24 billion-a-year tourism industry. More than half of the hotel rooms in Miami-Dade are located in Miami Beach.


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