Florida’s Zika outbreak has alarmed expectant mothers and shaken potential visitors, but Gov. Rick Scott urges calm.
During a visit to Boca Raton on Monday, Scott stressed that there have been just 43 cases of the disease reported in a state of 20 million people. What’s more, Scott said, Florida’s official danger zones for the Zika virus cover just two square miles of a sprawling state.
“We have to put this in perspective,” Scott said.
While two cases have been reported in Palm Beach County, public health officials said they scoured the areas where the victims live and work and found no other infections. Therefore, they believe the county’s Zika infections were isolated incidents.
The Wynwood area of Miami and part of Miami Beach are the two areas of Florida considered to harbor active Zika outbreaks. On Aug. 19, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommended pregnant women and their partners avoid travel to Miami-Dade County.
Scott visited Boca Raton to speak with local public health officials and politicians about Zika, a mosquito-borne illness that causes no symptoms in most of the people it infects. For unborn children, however, the effects can be devastating. The virus is believed to cause microcephaly, a severe brain defect.
For that reason, public health officials have urged pregnant women to slather on insect repellent and to wear long pants and long sleeves when they’re outside.
State Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, said his wife is six months pregnant, and she weighs potential exposure to mosquitoes as she plans daily errands and outings.
“This is a dinner conversation every night,” Moskowitz said.
Scott urged owners of homes and businesses to check their properties for standing water. A clogged drain, an upside down Frisbee, a birdbath or an old tire can create puddles of stagnant water that provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
“You can control your destiny,” Scott said.
State health officials suggest clearing stagnant water once a week. The eggs of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the breed that carries Zika, hatch after 10 to 14 days.
Officials also urge everyone, not just pregnant women, to use bug spray and to wear long sleeves and long pants. Because Zika can be transmitted sexually, Scott’s surgeon general advises pregnant women to require their partners to use condoms.
While most people who are infected with Zika show no symptoms, those who get sick can have a rash, red eyes, joint pain and fever.
Aside from birth defects, it’s unclear what health problems Zika might cause. The CDC is studying a possible link between Zika and Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a neurological illness.
In addition to the health risks, state officials worry that news of Zika could frighten tourists from visiting Florida. Despite the scary headlines, tourism officials expect Florida to welcome 100 million tourists again in 2016, a milestone the state hit last year.
“The numbers are still up,” said William Seccombe, president of Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing arm.