Florida Governor Rick Scott announced on Friday that his state is the first in the union to confirm what the Florida Department of Health characterizes as "local transmission" of the Zika virus.
Unlike the previous 1,650 cases in the United States, in which the patient was infected overseas and returned home as a carrier, the four patients identified by the Florida Health Department are believed to have contracted the virus from mosquitoes originating in a small area north of Miami.
The virus was discovered in the 1940s, but only recently have scientists realized the threat it poses to fetuses, as it is believed to be responsible for a Brazilian microcephaly outbreak. It is also known to cause blindness and impaired vision, deafness, and impaired growth in fetuses whose mothers are carriers.
Although the World Health Organization estimates that the risk of such birth defects is low -- only one in 100 infected women will give birth to a baby with such defects -- it still recommends women who hope to become pregnant avoid traveling to regions in which the virus is known to be spreading, or to practice safe-sex for at least eight weeks after traveling in them.
Governor Scott assured Floridians at a press conference that although no actual mosquitoes have tested positive for the virus, the state is "being very aggressive at testing people [in the Broward and Miami-Dade areas]," going door-to-door collecting urine samples from residents.
"We are testing the mosquitoes there and we spraying to make sure it’s contained," Governor Scott said, before noting that the health department does not believe the transmission is "ongoing." Still, he said, "if you live in this area and want to be tested, I urge you to contact the county health department."
The governor concluded the press conference by stating that "this is not just a Florida issue, this is a U.S. issue, it is a national issue -- we’re just the front of it."