State health officials in Florida said they expect an outbreak of the Zika virus in the state.
Nine new cases of the Zika virus were confirmed Jan. 29 by Florida state health officials, United Media Publishing reports. The state joins 13 others and Washington D.C. as locations in the continental U.S. where the virus has been detected in patients.
“We are aware of the Zika outbreak in Florida and are monitoring each case very closely,” Dr. Geoff Hutchinson of the Division of Epidemiology and Immunization at the Florida Department of Public Health told officials, according to United Media Publishing.
The CDC also confirmed the new cases.
“Each case involved families or individuals who traveled to an area we already know Zika is being transmitted," Hutchinson added.
There are now a total of 12 confirmed cases of the Zika virus in Florida.
On Jan. 28, the World Health Organization (WHO) said the disease was “spreading explosively” in the Americas, The New York Times reports. They estimate that as many as four million people could be infected by the end of the year.
“The level of alarm is extremely high,” Dr. Margaret Chan, the director general of the WHO, said during a speech in Geneva, Switzerland, according to The Times.
The Zika virus is acquired through the bite of an infected mosquito and causes flu-like symptoms that last up to one week, but it is rarely deadly. A large concern is for pregnant women who become infected with the virus as cases of microcephaly, a rare birth defect in which infants are born with abnormally small heads and damaged brains, have occurred in Brazil as the virus spreads throughout the country.
There is not enough evidence to conclude that the Zika virus is causing the condition, but the government of El Salvador has reportedly advised women to refrain from becoming pregnant until 2018.
Currently, the virus is not being acquired in the continental U.S. The reported cases have all occurred in people who recently traveled outside of the country to areas where contraction of the Zika virus is possible.
Matthew DeGennaro, a mosquito researcher at Florida International University, said he expects more cases will occur in the state but that the outbreaks will be smaller than those in Central and South American countries.
"You get these little pockets, but it’s not like it’s spreading across the whole county or the whole city," DeGennaro told WLRN.
"We live in these air-conditioned homes that have screens; we have active mosquito control programs that are reducing mosquito population," DeGennaro said as to why he suspects outbreaks will be small in Florida. "People are aware -- or, I hope they’re aware -- that you shouldn’t leave standing water around."
Health officials in the United States also said they do not think a homegrown outbreak is likely to happen because of effective mosquito control.
“For the average American who is not traveling to this area, there is nothing they need to worry about,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, Principal Deputy Director of the federal CDC, said, according to The Times.
Transmission of the Zika virus is currently possible in Central and South America, Mexico, the Caribbean, Cape Verde and Samoa, United Media Publishing notes.