On July 1, before the first cases of locally acquired Zika were documented in Florida, President Obama spoke to the press corps and assured the American people that the government was working hard to prevent the spread of the Zika virus that has been running rampart in parts of South and Central America.
“It is absolutely critical for the United Stated government — working in concert with other governments in the hemisphere — to be pushing hard right now to get this (Zika) situation under control,” he said.
Well, that didn’t happen and 28 days later (no pun intended) the first cases of locally acquired Zika were confirmed in the United States by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
As of Aug. 19, according to the Florida Department of Health, there have been 36 cases of locally acquired Zika in Florida, with the majority of the cases diagnosed in the area of Miami-Dade County. In the wake of the spike in infections, the CDC even went as far as to issue a travel warning for pregnant women to avoid certain parts of Southern Florida, something almost unheard of in the United States.
The CDC writes: “Zika virus infection during pregnancy is a cause of microcephaly and other severe fetal brain defects and has been linked to problems in infants, including eye defects, hearing loss, and impaired growth. Scientists are still studying the full range of other potential health problems that Zika virus infection during pregnancy may cause.”
Microcephaly is a serious birth defect where a baby’s head is smaller than expected when compared to babies of the same sex and age. Affected babies with microcephaly often have smaller brains that might not have developed properly.
So far, 529 pregnant women in the United States have tested positive for Zika.
Travel related Zika cases have been confirmed in almost every state in the United States (including the District of Columbia) with the only two states not affected being Wyoming and South Dakota.
As of Aug. 22, South Carolina has had 31 (travel related) cases.
Over 2,400 cases have been confirmed by the CDC nationally.
So, why is this a big deal? Well for one, the mosquito that carries the Zika virus, Aedes aegypti, lives and breeds here. And speaking of breeding, mosquitoes lay their eggs in pools of standing water with the larvae hatching in as little as 24 hours.
Do you know where there is a lot of standing water right now?
The devastating flooding has opened the door for Zika to potentially take hold in the Southeastern United States as it has in Brazil. To date, Brazil’s health ministry says there have been 3,893 suspected cases of microcephaly in infants since October.
A recently released transcription of a White House press briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Aug. 3, 2016 read:
MR. EARNEST: Good morning, everybody. Nice to see you all. You’ll have to bear with me a little bit today. I’m fighting off one of those nasty summer colds. So I’ll try to keep the sniffling and sneezing to a minimum up here. I don’t have any statements at the top, Josh, so we can go straight to your questions.
Q: You didn’t get Zika did you?
MR. EARNEST: I hope not. (Laughter.)
This is no laughing matter.