FGCU professors study Zika’s impact on Florida


SOUTH FORT MYERS, Fla. Professors Sharon Isern and Scott Michael saw it coming.

“When we saw Zika in South America, Central America (and) the Caribbean, we knew it was only a matter of time before it got to Florida,” Isern said.

Isern and Michael are two of five Florida Gulf Coast University professors who studied the virus alongside more than 60 experts around the world. They sought to pinpoint when the virus arrived in Florida, where it came from and how many times it’s been here.

Their study was published in “Nature,” a prominent scientific journal.

“There were at least four and possibly up to 40 different introductions into Florida that ended up sparking local transmission cases,” Michael said. “A lot of people had in mind this was a single invasion to Florida and it wasn’t. It was multiple.”

The virus may have been in Florida since the spring of 2016, Isern said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the state’s first locally transmitted cases in July.

Gov. Rick Scott last year allocated $61 million toward mosquito control and Zika research. On Tuesday, Scott hosted a roundtable discussion with experts to prepare for and combat Zika in 2017.

“Right now we don’t have any areas where we believe there’s local transmission, and we believe so far we have way less cases than we had a year ago,” Scott said.

Isern and Michael hope to compare 2017 strains to those from last year.

“The questions we’d like to address are is the same viruses coming back out again or is Florida getting new introductions of Zika,” Isern said.

There were 256 confirmed locally transmitted Zika infections in Florida in 2016.

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