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CDC's 'Unprecedented' Travel Warning For Zika Outbreak

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are warning pregnant American women and their partners to stay away from an area where the Zika virus has taken hold and is spreading.

But this time it's not some far-flung tropical locale or Brazilian city they're warning about -- it's here in the U.S., in a community in northern Miami.

The CDC alert, which media outlets are calling "unprecedented," advised pregnant women to avoid the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami, a small community just north of the city's downtown. According to The New York Times, the warning is the first time the CDC has told Americans to stay away from a location in the continental U.S.

That's because the number of confirmed cases in Wynwood -- reported as four individual cases on July 29 -- had ballooned to 14 by Aug. 2. Twelve men and two women have confirmed Zika infections, the CDC said, although health officials did not say if either of the two infected women are pregnant.

The outbreak differs from other cases of Zika virus confirmed in the U.S. because scientists believe those who contracted the virus got it from local infected mosquitos, CNN reported. Previously, most confirmed cases involved U.S. citizens who had traveled abroad to places where the virus was active.

Although they say the patients were probably infected as early as mid-June, CDC scientists say people -- pregnant women especially -- should avoid the neighborhood if possible. The stubborn Aedes aegypti mosquito has proved resilient to attempts at culling, and scientists said the mosquitos could be resistant to insecticides.

“Aggressive mosquito control measures don’t seem to be working as well as we would like,” Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the CDC, told reporters on Aug. 1.

In addition to warning against traveling to the Miami neighborhood, the CDC advised couples to avoid beginning new pregnancies for at least eight weeks after visiting the city.

The warning could make a dent in Florida's summer tourism industry. Jack Ezon, president of a New York travel agency, told The New York Times that customers had canceled 22 reservations on Aug. 1, and others said they were nervous about traveling to Florida.

“Yesterday, the news was terrorism," Ezon said. "Today, the news is Zika."

The CDC says it's ramping up efforts to control the outbreak in Florida. The agency dispatched an emergency response team to Miami, which will link up with CDC staffers already working on containment efforts in Florida, USA Today reported.

Meanwhile, members of Congress ended session for the summer before compromising on a $1.1 billion spending bill that would fund Zika virus containment. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told The Washington Post that Zika is a virus that, "when it gains a foothold in a population, can aggressively spread.”

“[Miami] is just the one outbreak we know about,” Hotez said. “I think it’s equally possible that multiple outbreaks are simultaneously occurring up and down the Gulf Coast and Florida.”

Sources: CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CDC / Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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