Five new Zika cases in tourist hotspot Miami Beach

US federal health officials are warning pregnant women not to travel to Miami Beach after Florida confirms the Zika virus is active there.
Australian tourists Brendan McKinnon (right) and Tillie Pearl walk through the Zika-hit Wynwood neighbourhood on July 31, 2016.
Australian tourists Brendan McKinnon (right) and Tillie Pearl walk through the Zika-hit Wynwood neighbourhood on July 31, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

MIAMI (AFP) - Five new cases of Zika have been found in tourist hotspot Miami Beach, signalling that local transmission of a virus blamed for birth defects is spreading, Florida officials said Friday (Aug 19).

"This means we have a new area" of local transmission, Governor Rick Scott said at a press conference.

The Florida Health Department said five individuals had been confirmed as cases of local Zika transmission in a section of Miami Beach.

Florida now has 36 cases of locally transmitted Zika virus, which is typically spread by mosquitoes but also by sexual contact.

The size of the zone in Miami Beach where active Zika transmission is occurring is just under 3.9 sq km.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention warned pregnant women to stay out of that part of town in Miami Beach and in the Miami neighbourhood of Wynwood.

In most people, Zika causes only mild symptoms but in pregnant women it can cause microcephaly, a deformation in which babies are born with abnormally small brains and heads.

Officials had previously said Zika was spreading in a one-square-mile zone north of downtown Miami called Wynwood, where more than two dozen people were believed to have been infected by mosquitoes carrying the virus.

Zika has also been linked to a disorder known as Guillain-Barre syndrome, which can lead to nervous system problems such as weakness and paralysis.

The spread of Zika in the Miami area has raised alarms that visitors may avoid the popular tourist resort.

On Friday, Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado told AFP that 15 public events in Wynwood had been cancelled in the past 10 days and cancellations were running through September and October.

Among them was a circus being brought in by a brewery, he said.

"The biggest worry is Art Basel, which means a lot of money," the mayor said of the international art show in Miami that is scheduled in early December.

"People eat in high-end restaurants, stay in high-end hotels."

On Thursday, the governor called on state business and health associations to work with the tourism industry on Zika prevention and education.

He also called on the state department of health to offer mosquito spraying to hotels, restaurants and attractions in Miami-Dade County at no cost.

The United States reported its first locally transmitted cases of Zika in Florida in July. Florida is so far the only state in the mainland US where that has been reported.