WEDNESDAY, May 24, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- The 2016 Zika outbreak in Florida wasn't due to a single introduction and spread of the virus, but rather at least four separate events, researchers report.
By analyzing the genetic material of Zika viruses found in people and mosquitoes in Florida, the scientists also concluded that local transmission of the Zika virus likely began in spring 2016 before the first local case was confirmed.
The researchers said they also discovered that three of the Zika strains that affected Florida spread through the Caribbean islands first before reaching the state. The fourth spread through Central America, the study authors said.
Based on their findings, the researchers believe that a similar Zika transmission pattern could happen again this year in Florida.
There are a number of reasons why Florida is a likely hotspot for Zika outbreaks in the United States, study co-leader Sharon Isern of Florida Gulf Coast University said.
These factors include the climate and an abundance of Zika-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Plus, many people from the Miami area travel to countries where Zika is already established in Latin America and the Caribbean.
While the Zika virus is not harmful to most people, it can cause fevers, rash, headache, joint and muscle pain. It is, however, a significant risk to pregnant women because the virus can cause microcephaly, in which babies are born with underdeveloped heads and brains.
The new study was published May 24 in the journal Nature.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on Zika.