Seven new Zika cases in South Florida

MIAMI — Florida health officials are investigating whether mosquitoes carrying Zika are spreading even farther in South Florida as the number of locally acquired cases continue to climb.

The Florida Department of Health confirmed on Tuesday that six more people contracted the virus in the tourist hot spot of Miami Beach. Over the past month, 40 people have contracted Zika from mosquitoes in Miami Beach and a second South Florida location – the Wynwood art district just north of downtown Miami. Those two areas have become the focus of health officials, mosquito control efforts and travel warnings for pregnant women from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Now, the department says someone has contracted the virus outside those two zones. The department said the new case was identified in Miami-Dade County, but would not specify where until officials can test relatives, close contacts and neighbors of the person to determine if it’s an active outbreak or just an isolated case.

“One case does not mean ongoing active transmission is taking place,” the department said. “If DOH finds evidence that active transmission is occurring in an area, the media and the public will be notified.”

The new cases came as Congress returned to Washington and tried to agree on emergency funding to help Florida and other states fight back against the fast-spreading virus.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., said on Tuesday that Democrats have twice rejected a bill that would dedicate $1.1 billion in federal funds to help research and prevention efforts. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other Democratic leaders say the bills advanced by the GOP have included “poison pills” including cuts to health care, Planned Parenthood and blocking a ban on displaying the Confederate flag at U.S. military cemeteries.

As that battle rages in Washington, Miami-Dade County announced that it will conduct aerial mosquito spraying over the affected portion of Miami Beach. Similar efforts in Wynwood drew widespread opposition from residents concerned about the chemicals dropping down on them. But Miami-Dade Country Mayor Carlos Gimenez said on Tuesday that the CDC and various state officials signed off on the decision to spray on Miami Beach.

“Although we had concerns about spraying in Miami Beach due to its unique topography, high-rise buildings and construction sites, we have received reassurances . . . that this is the right and safe thing to do at this time,” Gimenez said in a statement.

The news of Zika continuing to spread on Miami Beach comes after state officials recently trapped the first mosquitoes in the U.S. to contain the Zika virus. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services caught three mosquitoes in the 1.5-square mile area where humans have been contracting the virus.

To date, Florida has confirmed 577 cases of people who contracted Zika while traveling abroad. The virus has been identified in 80 pregnant women who contracted the virus abroad.

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