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Zika infections pass 10,000 in Puerto Rico; White House diverts federal funds to find a vaccine

Zika Florida sprayings
Frank Middlebrooks, a groundskeeper at Pinecrest Gardens, sprays insecticide to kill mosquitoes near Miami. Officials report 25 locally transmitted Zika cases.
(Gaston De Cardenas / Miami Herald)

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The number of infections caused by the Zika virus in Puerto Rico has surpassed 10,000, an official said Friday, a day after the White House said it would redirect funds from other efforts to help pay for research to find a vaccine.

The moves come as Florida continues to spray insecticide in parts of Miami to kill mosquitoes that can transmit the virus. The spraying was launched last week after health officials identified cases of locally transmitted Zika. Previous infections reported in the U.S. occurred only among people who traveled abroad.

Meanwhile, Italian doctors reported a case in which the virus was detected in sperm six months after a man showed symptoms of Zika.

The virus, transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, can cause microcephaly among children born to infected mothers. Newborns with microcephaly typically have brain irregularities and unusually small heads.

In Florida, insecticide has been sprayed by ground crews and from airplanes in Miami’s Wynwood area. Bit by bit, officials have declared that parts of the neighborhood appear to have been cleared of mosquitoes.

On Thursday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced that an additional part of Wynwood was cleared. Health officials have now identified 25 cases of locally transmitted Zika in the state.

Scott has asked for more federal money to fight the outbreak and criticized the federal government for lack of funding.

“I’m very disappointed with the federal government; they have not been a partner,” the GOP governor told Fox News. “I’ve allocated state resources, $26.2 million. We’ll allocate more if we need to. We’re going to make sure that everybody that is pregnant in our state, if you want to be assessed, if you want a test, you can go to our health departments and do it, but the federal government has not been a good partner.”

Federal funding has been bogged down in Congress. The Obama administration said Thursday it would shift $81 million from biomedical research and antipoverty programs to pay for development of a Zika vaccine.

Republican lawmakers balked at one spending measure, suggesting the funds could be shifted from other federal programs.

In July, Democrats blocked a Republican measure to allocate $1.1 billion to fight Zika because provisions in the measure included banning funding for Planned Parenthood, a frequent target of conservatives because it provides abortion services.

In Puerto Rico, 1,914 new cases of Zika were discovered in the last week, Ana Rius, the territory’s secretary of health, said Friday. That brought the overall number of cases there to 10,690, with 1,035 involving pregnant women. Rius said 90 people have been hospitalized as a result.

Zika is commonly transmitted by mosquito bites, but it also can be spread through sexual contact. The new report by Italian researchers suggests the time period for possible infection can stretch for months.

Doctors at the Lazzaro Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases in Rome wrote in the report that Zika could remain present in sperm for six months, suggesting the possibility the virus could reproduce itself in men.

The subject of the report was an infected man, described to be in his early 40s, who returned to Italy after two weeks in Haiti, where he was bitten by mosquitoes. The man developed a fever and a rash in January.

Christian Lindmeier, spokesman for the World Health Organization, told the BBC the report would be assessed: “The Zika outbreak is a constantly evolving situation, and every new piece of evidence is looked into and evaluated as to whether or not guidelines will need to be revised.”

 

alexia.fernandez@latimes.com

Twitter: @alexiafedz

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