The state of Florida, the first to report the arrival of Zika in the continental United States, has yet to invite a dedicated team of the federal government’s disease hunters to assist with the investigation on the ground, health officials told Reuters.
Coordination with the ‘Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since the state reported possible local Zika transmission on July 19 has been conducted largely at a distance, they said. That is surprising to some infectious disease experts, who say a less robust response could lead to a higher number of infections.
While Florida has a strong record of battling limited outbreaks of similar mosquito-borne viruses, including dengue and chikungunya, the risk of birth defects caused by Zika adds greater urgency to containing its spread with every available means, they say. Other states have quickly called in CDC teams to help track high-profile diseases.
“You only have a small window. This is the window” to prevent a small-scale outbreak from spreading, said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, who expressed impatience with the pace of the Florida investigation.
Florida on Friday said that four cases of Zika in the state were likely caused by mosquito, the first sign that the virus is circulating locally, though it has yet to identify mosquitoes carrying the disease.
The current Zika outbreak was first detected last year in Brazil, where it has been linked to more than 1,700 cases of the birth defect microcephaly, and has since spread rapidly through the Americas.
Florida Governor Rick Scott said the state health department was working with the CDC as it continues its Zika investigation. CDC said it is closely coordinating with Florida officials who are leading the effort. Dr Marc Fischer, a CDC epidemiologist, has gone to Florida at the state’s request.
But the state has not invited in the CDC’s wider emergency response team of experts in epidemiology, risk communication, vector control and logistics, according to Florida health department spokeswoman Mara Gambineri.
Tourists visit the Wynwood Walls, a popular outdoor graffiti exhibit that also falls in the approximately one-mile area where Florida Governor Rick Scott and state health officials announced one woman and three men contracted the Zika virus locally, in Miami, Florida (Photo: Reuters)