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Celeste Philip: Current indicators improved, but Zika threat remains serious

in 2017/Top Headlines by

Florida Surgeon General Dr. Celeste Philip and Gov. Rick Scott told a roundtable of Orange County public health officials in Orlando Tuesday that Zika preparedness is up and incidents and rain down this year, but the risk of another major disease outbreak remains significant and no one should abandon precautions.

Florida has seen 50 confirmed case of Zika infection so far in 2017, all from overseas transmissions, and less than half of what was seen by this time in 2016. The dry spring has helped, as has more vigilance by officials and citizens, Philip said, and that must not change.

Real mosquito season is coming, and last summer’s experiences, with hundreds of confirmed cases and a local outbreak from infected mosquitoes in Miami-Dade County.

“Compared with last year’s experience, we are better positioned,” Philip said.

“Good news, but as long as there are Zika cases anywhere else in the world, and as long as we have as many travelers that we do, we have to remain vigilant and be proactive, and take steps to prevent transmissions,” Philip said.

That means covering exposed skin, using mosquito repellent, preventing standing water, even a bottle cap full, from appearing anywhere outdoors, to take extra precautions in infected countries, and to take sexual precautions for at least six months after traveling to any countries with Zika outbreaks.

Last year’s Zika outbreak in Miami-Dade led to Florida’s worst fears: that the infected mosquitoes could get established here, as they have in Puerto Rico and many Caribbean and Latin American countries most notably Brazil. The real threat is to pregnant women, as Zika can cause a range of birth defects up to microcephaly.

Last year Scott allocated $61 million to the Florida Department of Health for mosquito control and $25 million to accelerate development of a vaccine and to improve testing. Last year, much of the testing had to be done out of state, causing delays that left pregnant women in terror for weeks, who are eligible for free assessment tests. Now that testing all can be done in Florida, greatly shortening the turnaround time, Philip said.

“The focal point of our meeting today is to make sure everyone continues to stay focused to make sure we don’t see Zika expansion,” Scott said. “We’re going to see more rain … and when we see more rain we will see more mosquitoes.”

“We have not had any local cases in 2017. We have some individuals that were tested and diagnosed in 2017, but based on where they were and some other circumstances, we believe they were likely exposed in 2016.

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Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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