U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy toured a mosquito control facility in Orlando on Monday and said now is the time to start taking precautions to prevent the spread of the Zika virus.
The top federal health officials’ visit to Florida comes just days after investigations were launched into whether two people in the state got the Zika virus through mosquitoes.
“What (we) should be worried about is some sort of local transmission will occur this summer,” Burwell said. “That is our expectation. We don’t know when or where.”
Murthy said several precautions that should be taken, especially for those who have recently visited an area like Puerto Rico or parts of South America where there are known transmissions by mosquito.
He suggested using insect repellent, staying in air-conditioned spaces, wearing long sleeve shirts and pants and getting rid of unnatural standing water in neighborhoods and around homes such as bird baths, water in old tires or even a small bottle cap of water. If you have visited recently an area known for transmission of Zika, you should avoid unprotected sex because that is a known way of transferring the virus, he said.
Although mosquitoes have been widely identified as the primary way the virus moves, both Burwell and Murthy reiterated that people are the biggest transmitters. Because mosquitoes do not travel far, the transmission from mosquito to a human will likely take place after mosquitoes have bitten a person already infected with the Zika virus.
“It’s a serious issue,” Burwell said, “So we want to make sure everyone has the right tools to be able to do everything they can to protect themselves in terms of travel, in terms of sexual relations, in terms of making sure when you are in places you are taking the steps you should take.”
To date there have been 12 births affected by the Zika virus in the United States.
An estimated 80 percent of Zika cases show zero symptoms. There is no known treatment or vaccine for the virus at this point.
Earlier this month, Congress left on a seven-week summer break without approving funding to help fight the virus.
President Obama requested $1.9 billion from Congress in February but Congress has yet to take action. In the meantime, the federal government has made $27 million available to Florida in public health emergency funding and last week President Obama promised Gov. Rick Scott $5.6 million to help as the push for a vaccine continues.
“We have moved all of the money that we can at this point in terms of moving our money around to try and cover,” Burwell said. “As we said before Congress went out, we are at a point in time where we need the resources. Very clearly we will run out of money in our vaccine efforts.”