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Tampa Bay Area Preps For Zika

Mark Schreiner
WUSF 89.7 News
Steven Sullivan (center) with Hillsborough Co. Public Works talks about precautions people can take to avoid Zika-carrying mosquitoes while John Lyons of Hillsborough Co. Mosquito Control and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor look on.

While Florida has about a quarter of the almost 400 reported cases of Zika in the United States, no one has been infected in Florida. But that's not stopping local public health experts from advising people to protect themselves.

When it comes to Zika, the advice from officials with Hillsborough County Mosquito Control and local hospitals is similar to what you've heard before: empty flower pots and other holders of standing water that encourage mosquito breeding, wear insect repellent and long sleeves, and avoid being outside at times the little pests are most active.

"It's going to take an entire community effort," said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Tampa) at a news conference held in the backyard of a Tampa home Tuesday. "It's going to take (people) talking to their friends and neighbors...and really being as proactive as possible as we head into the summer months."

Doctor Jamie Morano, an assistant professor in the USF Health Division of Infectious Disease & International Medicine, said the bad news is that the Aedes aegypti - one of the two mosquitoes native to Florida that is known to carry Zika - has been known to carry other worrisome viruses.

But Morano adds - that's also the good news.

"So because the viruses are carried by the same mosquito, any efforts that we do to combat Zika virus will also help combat dengue and chikungunya and other mosquito-borne diseases," Morano said.

Credit Mark Schreiner / WUSF 89.7 News
Hillsborough County officials display a bucket used to collect mosquitoes.

"Remember the United States used to have malaria as well way back, and we eradicated malaria," she added. "So I think as long as we follow mosquito control precautions we can make sure Zika does not spread in our country at this time."

According to the latest figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Florida has 84 diagnosed cases of Zika but none are "native" to the area - or contracted here.

As a matter of fact, all of the 388 reported cases in the U.S. are people who were either infected in another country or were infected - mainly through sexual transmission - by someone who contracted it abroad. But health officials don't believe it will stay that way.

"My suspicion is that locally transmitted Zika virus infection may arrive at some point," said Dr. Jose Prieto of Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital. "Luckily, so far, that hasn't been the case. It just underlines how important it is to prevent this condition."

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