Latin American health ministers agreed Wednesday on a public information campaign and boosted the number of medical workers to fight the mosquito-borne zika virus, which poses the greatest threat to pregnant women.
The 14 officials, including Brazilian Health Minister Marcelo Castro, whose country has been hit hardest by the virus, held emergency talks in Montevideo, Uruguay.
Castro said regional leaders need to “exchange information, make alliances, and discuss what coordinated action we can take to control this epidemic.”
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has said her government will spare no expense in fighting the mosquito that experts say carries the virus.
“My entire government is working on fighting this emergency,” Ms. Rousseff said this week. “There will be no lack of funding. … We will partner up with the U.S. government, with President Obama . . . in order to develop as quickly as possible a vaccine for the zika virus.”
A worrisome development intensified concerns this week when health officials in Dallas County, Texas, reported what appears to be the first Zika case in the U.S. transmitted through sexual contact.
The patient apparently was infected after having sex with an ill individual who returned from a country where the virus is present. It was later reported on Twitter that the infected traveler had recently been to Venezuela.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the top federal public health agency, confirmed the Texas case.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a public health emergency in four counties with travel-related cases of the zika virus Wednesday and ordered state officials to increase mosquito control efforts in some of the most populous parts of the state.
“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,” Scott said in a statement.
The counties are Miami-Dade in south Florida, Hillsborough in the Tampa Bay region, Lee County in southwest Florida and Santa Rosa County in the Florida Panhandle.
Scott directed state officials to pay special attention to mosquito spraying in residential areas in those counties.
Florida is the third most populous state in the United States.
World Health Organization expert Anthony Costello spoke Wednesday of the need for quick action against zika, which has the potential to spread far beyond the Americas.
“We know that the mosquitoes that carry the zika virus are present through most of Africa, parts of southern Europe, and many parts of Asia, particularly South Asia,” he said.
There is currently no treatment for zika, but a number of global pharmaceutical houses are rapidly working on a vaccine.
The zika virus causes no symptoms in 80 percent of people bitten by the Aedes mosquito. Other people infected develop a mild rash. However, the virus is a threat to pregnant women.
The WHO says the virus is strongly suspected to cause microcephaly, a condition that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads.
Brazil has reported nearly 4,000 suspected cases of microcephaly since October, but experts are puzzled as to why microcephaly is nearly non-existent in other Latin countries where the virus is present.