Florida governor expands Zika emergency


TAMPA -- Gov. Rick Scott declared a health emergency in five counties Thursday after at least 12 cases of the mosquito-borne Zika virus were detected in Florida.

Health officials believe all the cases were contracted by people who had traveled to affected countries.

Broward joins Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Lee and Santa Rosa counties, which were placed under emergency order Wednesday.

Scott said Thursday at a news conference in Tampa that the 12 Florida cases were contracted when the victims of the illness traveled in Central and South America.

The order allows the state Agriculture Department to use more mosquito spray in the Florida counties the governor named. It also directs the Florida Department of Health to make its own decisions about what's needed from the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Zika virus is linked to brain deformities in babies and is causing concern among public health officials worldwide. The illness is primarily spread through mosquito bites, but investigators have been exploring the possibility it could be sexually transmitted.

U.S. health officials say a person in Texas became infected with Zika through sex, the first case of such a transmission of the illness in the United States.

Florida's warm climate, year-round mosquitoes and revolving door of international travelers make it vulnerable, but local governments have a history of fighting off similar viruses.

Scott says the state is preparing as it would for a hurricane and wants residents and tourists to know Florida is safe. He has asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 1,000 kits to test for Zika antibodies, to add to the approximately 500 kits the state already has.