Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency over the Zika virus threat in four counties on Wednesday, saying that he wanted state resources prepared for the possibility that Zika could begin spreading through Florida’s mosquito population.
“Although Florida’s current nine Zika cases were travel-related, we have to ensure Florida is prepared and stays ahead of the spread of the Zika virus in our state,” read a statement from Scott. “Our Department of Health will continue to be in constant communication with all county health offices, hospitals and the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We know that we must be prepared for the worst even as we hope for the best.”
ABC News reports that Scott has ordered the Florida Department of Health to “take any action necessary to protect public health,” and gives the Florida Commissioner of Agriculture, Adam Putnam, authority to issue a “mosquito declaration” to reduce insect populations in the affected counties.
The public health emergency order covers Miami-Dade, Lee, Hillsborough, and Santa Rosa counties, according to CBS News.
As Governor Scott mentioned, there have been nine confirmed cases of Zika in Florida so far, all of them international travelers who recently visited the outbreak zones in Latin America and the Caribbean. Of the 48 total cases reported in the United States to date, only one appears to be an example of “local transmission,” i.e. contracting Zika while inside the U.S.
CBS reports that none of the Florida cases were pregnant women, the group believed to be most at risk from Zika infections because the otherwise mild virus has been tentatively linked to birth defects in unborn children.
The chief medical correspondent for CBS News, Dr. Jon LaPook, said he thought the emergency declaration was an “attempt to stay ahead of the problem by lowering the odds that Zika virus will enter the local mosquito population in Florida.”
Another precaution mentioned in the CBS report involved hospitals in South Florida asking pregnant women if they have traveled to the Zika outbreak areas in South America, and advising them against doing so.
Florida authorities may be especially nervous about Zika because it is primarily borne by mosquitoes, which Florida has a notorious surplus of. On the other hand, Florida has long experience with controlling the insect population.
“One of the things that makes us in Florida a little bit safer is that we have much better mosquito control mechanisms,” said Florida International University assistant professor of biology Matthew DeGennaro, quoted by the Miami Herald. “We live in homes that have screens and have air conditioning… We kind of prevent access of the mosquitoes to people in ways that are not happening in, let’s say, Northeast Brazil, where people are a lot more impoverished.”