Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are seen inside Oxitec laboratory in Campinas, Brazil, February 2, 2016. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker/File Photo(reuters_tickers)
By Zachary Fagenson
MIAMI (Reuters) - Florida officials said on Friday they have identified a new area of Zika virus transmission through local mosquitoes in a small area in Miami Beach, the second area in Miami-Dade county where the Zika virus is spreading.
Florida Governor Rick Scott said state health officials have identified five cases of Zika believed to be contracted in Miami Beach.
"This means we believe we have a new area where local transmissions are occurring in Miami Beach," he said, noting that the state had already stepped up pesticide spraying efforts in this area.
As a result of the new area of transmission, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expanded its travel warning, urging pregnant women to avoid both the Wynwood neighbourhood in Miami, where the first local transmissions occurred, and a 1.5-square-mile area in Miami Beach located between 8th and 28th Streets.
The CDC also said that pregnant women and their sexual partners who are worried about potential Zika exposure might consider postponing nonessential travel to all parts of Miami-Dade County.
"We're in the midst of mosquito season and expect more Zika infections in the days and months to come,” CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said in a statement.
Frieden said it is difficult to predict how long active transmissions will continue.
"CDC disease control experts are doing everything they can to support state and local control programs to stop the spread of Zika," he said.
Of the five new cases in Miami Beach, one person is a resident of New York, one person is a resident of Texas and one person is a resident of Taiwan.
"All three of these people traveled to Miami," Scott said.
Scott said Florida has requested more support from the CDC.
Reporters pressed Scott on the timeliness of the announcement, which was first reported in the Miami Herald on Thursday and was confirmed by many other news outlets on Thursday, including Reuters.
"We recognize the desire for information quickly, but it is important that we conduct our interviews and investigations pursuant to epidemiological standards," Scott said.
Reporters at the press conference charged Scott with underplaying Zika transmission and delaying confirmation to minimize the effect on tourism in the state.
Scott said the state was taking every measure to ensure the information they provided to the public was accurate.
"I want to assure everyone that if we identify additional areas of local transmission that we will alert the public and the media immediately," he said.
U.S. Senator Harry Reid, a Democrat, said the transmission of Zika in Miami Beach "is the most alarming development yet in the rapidly growing threat of Zika in the United States."
Reid renewed calls for lawmakers in the House and Senate to return to Washington to authorize funding to help public health officials fight the spread of Zika.
President Barack Obama in February requested $1.9 billion to fight Zika but Congressional efforts to approve part of the funding deadlocked before lawmakers adjourned for the summer.
Earlier on Friday, U.S. health officials published a study estimating that as many as 270 babies in Puerto Rico may be born with the severe birth defect known as microcephaly caused by Zika infections in their mothers during pregnancy.
The condition, in which infants are born with abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains, is estimated to cost $10 million over the lifetime of one child.
The connection between Zika and microcephaly first came to light last fall in Brazil, which has now confirmed more than 1,800 cases of microcephaly that it considers to be related to Zika infection in the mothers.
(Reporting by Michele Gershberg, Julie Steenhuysen and Zachary Fagenson; writing by Julie Steenhuysen; editing by Bernard Orr)