MIAMI BEACH — A cluster of Zika cases most likely transmitted by local mosquitoes has been identified in Miami Beach, and federal and state officials are considering whether to advise pregnant women to avoid traveling to the city and possibly even all of Miami-Dade County, a health official said Thursday.
Such a decision would signal that the potential threat of local Zika transmission had catapulted to a new level. It would no longer be confined to one zone of active local transmission in Miami — the only one identified in the continental United States up to now. A broad travel advisory could threaten tourism in South Florida and deepen fears among pregnant women living in the area.
The Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales, in an email to city commissioners, confirmed that two cases of Zika have been tied to Miami Beach. One case is a tourist who had visited Miami Beach two weeks ago. Another case involves a Miami Beach resident who works on the island, Mr. Morales said in the email, which was first reported by The Miami Herald.
“I have been informed that two Zika cases have been linked to Miami Beach,” Mr. Morales said in the email.
At noon on Friday, Gov. Rick Scott will hold a news conference to discuss the developments.
While the Zika virus has mild or negligible effects in most people, it can be devastating in pregnancy because it can damage the brain of a developing fetus, leading to babies born with unusually small heads, a condition called microcephaly. The Zika epidemic has swept across Latin America and the Caribbean since last year. In Brazil, which has been hardest hit by the virus, more than 1,800 babies have been born with microcephaly.
Until three weeks ago, all documented cases of Zika infection in the continental United States had been linked to people who had traveled to the outbreak region, or people who had sexual relations or close contact with someone who had traveled there.
While officials have long expected cases of local transmission in the United States, especially in warm climates like Florida’s where mosquitoes flourish, it was impossible for them to predict exactly where those cases would crop up. On July 29, health officials announced that the first cases of local Zika transmission in the continental United States had affected four people in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties.
By LIZETTE ALVAREZ and PAM BELLUCK
AUG. 18, 2016