Miami's South Beach Is No Longer a Zika Zone But Texas Is

IMAGE: Mosquito control
A Miami-Dade County mosquito control worker sprays around a schoolAlan Diaz / AP

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By Maggie Fox

The Zika virus is no longer actively spreading in Miami’s South Beach, and all of Florida’s Zika zones have now been cleared, state health officials said Friday.

But Texas now has a probable outbreak, with four new cases in a cluster in Brownsville.

Officials in both states are hoping for a respite from Zika scares as weather cools and mosquitoes become less active.

Clearing South Beach doesn’t mean that Zika is gone — the state reported five new home-grown cases Wednesday — but the identified areas of “active transmission” have been without fresh cases for more than six weeks.

Pedestrians walk along Lincoln Road, an open air shopping space, on the day that Florida state officials announced they found the Zika virus in trapped mosquitoes in the city.Joe Raedle / Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed the area from a “red” zone to a “yellow” zone.

“All of Miami-Dade County continues to have the yellow area designation and pregnant women are eligible for Zika virus testing,” the CDC said.

Florida for a time had three active Zika zones, all in the Miami area. There have also been sporadic cases reported where people caught the virus locally, as opposed to outbreaks of more than one case together.

"We are the first community in the world to break the cycle of local transmission."

“I am proud to announce that the remaining Miami Beach area has been cleared of any ongoing active transmission of the Zika virus. This means that Florida does not have any identified areas with active Zika transmission, which is incredible news for the Miami Beach community and our entire state,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said at a news conference.

Related: Another Miami Neighborhood Cleared of Zika Outbreaks

“Miami Beach attracts millions of people each year with its beautiful beaches, world-class hotels, vibrant restaurants, shops and events, and lifting this zone sends a message across the world that Miami Beach remains a top tourist destination.”

The hit to the region’s tourism was a major worry.

“With Gov. Scott’s lifting of the Zika zone in the south area of Miami Beach (between Southwest 8th Street to Southwest 28th Street, from Biscayne Bay to the ocean) this morning, Miami-Dade County is now Zika-zone free. We are the first community in the world to break the cycle of local transmission,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said in a statement.

“Because of our success, Miami-Dade’s Mosquito Control team is regarded as a model for the rest of the world, and we will continue to explore new and emerging technologies and options to keep our community safe from the Zika virus.”

Sometime over vociferous local opposition, Miami-Dade County officials deployed mosquito spray trucks, aerial fogging and hand-held sprayers to fight the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that spread Zika. They also strictly enforced rules to dump standing water and ripped out tropical plantings that could harbor mosquito nests.

Earlier this month, Florida state officials declared a second outbreak of Zika over in the Miami area, this one in a neighborhood known as Little River or Little Haiti.

Related: Miami's Zika Red Zone Means Stay Out

Texas also announced its first locally transmitted case of Zika in recent days, and found four more nearby on Friday. Officials have not declared an outbreak but say the cases are likely related.

"The additional patients live in very close proximity to the first case. Though the investigation is ongoing, the infections were likely acquired in that immediate area," the Texas Department of State Health Services and Cameron County Department of Health and Human Services said in a joint statement.

"They reported getting sick with Zika-like symptoms between Nov. 29 and Dec. 1 and were likely infected several days earlier before mosquito control efforts intensified in that part of Brownsville. None are pregnant women. Testing of people living in an eight-block area around the homes of the identified cases continues but has yet to show any additional evidence of Zika transmission in the rest of that larger area."

The main risk of Zika is to babies of women infected while pregnant. The virus causes severe birth defects.

There's no vaccine against Zika and no treatment for infection, which is mild and almost undetectable in most people. The main way to fight Zika is to eradicate mosquitoes.

“We will continue to see these isolated cases."

Florida has reported 249 locally acquired cases of Zika virus, most of them sporadic and not part of any clear outbreak.

“We will continue to see these isolated cases,” Dr. Celeste Phillips, Florida’s surgeon general, told a news conference.

Related: There's No Doubt Zika Causes Birth Defects

They are probably related to travelers carrying the infection with them, Phillips said.

Zika is spread mostly by mosquitoes and, less often, through sexual contact. Mosquitoes don’t travel far, but people do and can unwittingly be infected and carry the virus with them. If they’re bitten by an Aedes aegypti mosquito, they can infect that insect and the mosquito can later infect more people.

Outbreaks are caused if a pool of mosquitoes gets infected and can bite several people.

“As of December 8, a total of 4,575 cases of Zika have been reported in the continental United States and Hawaii,” the CDC said. Many thousands more likely went unreported, CDC said. Zika rarely causes serious symptoms and most people never knew they had it.