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Florida governor declares health emergency due to Zika

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NEW YORK — The Latest on the mosquito-born Zika virus, which is linked to brain deformities in babies (all times local):

9:15 p.m.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has declared a health emergency in four counties of the state because of the Zika virus.

At least nine cases of the mosquito-borne illness have been detected in Florida. Health officials believe all of the cases are from people who contracted the disease while traveling to affected countries.

Scott signed the order Wednesday to cover Miami-Dade, Lee, Hillsborough and Santa Rosa counties.

The Zika virus is linked to brain deformities in babies and is causing concern among public health officials worldwide. The virus is primarily spread through mosquito bites, but investigators had been exploring the possibility it could be sexually transmitted.

U.S. health officials say a person in Texas became infected with Zika through sex in the first case of the illness being transmitted within the United States.

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9 p.m.

Brazil's Health Ministry is calling for deeper investigation into studies on the transmission of Zika, following reports out of Texas that the virus had been spread through sex.

The Health Ministry said in a statement Wednesday that "until now, there is no proof of the transmission of Zika through sexual relations."

The ministry underscored its longstanding recommendation of condom use to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

U.S. health officials said Tuesday a person in Texas became infected with Zika through sex.

The World Health Organization says that the reported case of sexually transmitted Zika virus is raising concerns.

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8:40 p.m.

Brazil's health regulator Anvisa is authorizing the registry of laboratory tests that can detect the dengue, chikungunya and Zika viruses.

Anvisa spokesman Carlos Lopes said from Brasilia on Wednesday that two tests will be able to spot all three viruses using antibodies from the illnesses, and several months after a person has been infected.

Two other tests can identify the viruses but only one at a time and only if the person was infected while being tested.

Lopes says the tests are expected to help improve the accuracy of diagnoses between the three viruses that are transmitted by the same Aedes aegypti mosquito.

A German and a Brazilian lab are now in charge of the registry to carry out the tests before the Brazilian government distributes it to other accredited labs.

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8:30 p.m.

Mexico has launched a radio and television ad campaign to encourage pregnant women to take measures to avoid getting Zika.

Mexico has only 37 confirmed cases, none of them among pregnant women.

But the Health Department says pregnant women should take special care after babies were born in Brazil with extremely small heads, possibly related to their mothers being infected with the Zika virus. The broadcast ads urge pregnant women to wear long-sleeved clothing, use mosquito repellant and keep windows and doors closed.

The ads are scheduled to run at least through March, and tell women the disease "could seriously affect your pregnancy."

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6:40 p.m.

Latin American health ministers meeting in Uruguay are focusing on why Zika has been linked to birth defects in Brazil but not in other countries where the virus has been detected.

Colombian Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria told The Associated Press Wednesday that researchers need to look at what may be fueling the differences in manifestations.

He gave the example of Colombia, where 20,000 cases of Zika have been confirmed but not a single case of microcephaly, or smaller than normal head size in infants.

Brazilian officials have recorded 3,670 suspected cases of microcephaly since October. Brazil's Heath Ministry says the rare brain defect in babies has been confirmed in 404 of those cases.

Infants with microcephaly have smaller than normal heads and their brains do not develop properly.

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6 p.m.

The World Health Organization says a reported case of sexually transmitted Zika virus is raising concerns.

Spokesman Gregory Hartl says WHO is organizing and supporting research about the mostly mosquito-borne virus and "under what conditions is it transmitted and via which routes other than the mosquito route."

Speaking in Geneva on Wednesday, Hartl said that for now WHO believes nearly all of cases are caused by transmission by mosquitoes.

Zika has been linked to birth defects in the Americas. U.S. health officials say a person in Texas became infected with Zika through sex, in the first case of the illness being transmitted within the United States amid the current outbreak in Latin America.

WHO says it has not yet issued any guidance on possible prevention of sexual transmission of Zika.

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5:30 p.m.

The director of the Pan American Health Organization is saying that confirmation that the Zika virus can be transmitted sexually would change the paradigm of the quickly spreading epidemic.

Carissa Etienne made the comments Wednesday in Uruguay while attending an emergency meeting of health ministers from Latin America.

Health officials in the U.S. state of Texas said Tuesday that a patient there acquired Zika through sex with an ill person who returned from Venezuela, where the virus was present. The Zika virus is usually spread through mosquito bites.

Etienne says that the Texas case has not been discussed at the summit. However, she wants to see a formal report on the case and study it further.

In her words, "Obviously it would bring a new dimension to the Zika problem."

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5:20 p.m.

Brazil's Butantan Institute is seeking to develop a vaccine to combat the Zika virus by adapting an existing one for dengue.

The Sao Paulo-based institute is spearheading research against the Zika virus that has quickly spread throughout Brazil and the rest of Latin America.

Butantan's Director Jorge Kalil says the technology that was developed in the Brazilian vaccine against dengue could be modified. He says one of the possibilities would be to add a gene containing a key protein in the Zika virus. Another alternative would be to create an attenuated Zika virus using a method similar to the one in the development of the dengue vaccine.

Kalil's comments were published Wednesday on the official news agency of the Research Support Foundation of the State of Sao Paulo.

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5:10 p.m.

A World Health Organization's spokesman says it's time for science to "step up" and tackle the "the very concerning" cases of microcephaly that could be linked to the mosquito-borne Zika virus.

Christian Lindmeier made the comments on Wednesday, a day after the U.N. health agency declared Zika a global public health emergency. No vaccine exists.

Speaking via Skype from Geneva to British broadcaster Sky News, Christian Lindmeier also urged people to "keep everything on a rational level" because "not every mosquito you see flying around on the wall is an infected mosquito."

Zika has been linked to brain deformities in babies in Latin America. Several thousand cases of microcephaly have been reported in Brazil since October, although researchers have so far not proven a definitive link to the virus.

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4 p.m.

Argentina is reporting a second person in the country is confirmed to be infected with Zika.

The health ministry in the central Cordoba province said Wednesday that the patient is a 68-year-old man who was infected abroad. He is known to have recently traveled to Venezuela's Margarita Island. The provincial health ministry says he's evolving well.

Argentine authorities confirmed last week that a Colombian woman who lives in Buenos Aires had been infected with the Zika virus. Officials say the 23-year-old woman became ill while in Colombia.

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3 p.m.

Ireland has reported its first two cases of the mosquito-borne Zika virus but says both patients are in good condition and neither is pregnant.

Wednesday's statement from the Health Service Executive of Ireland declined to identify either patient. The agency says both patients were unrelated, had recently returned to Ireland from countries where the virus is prevalent, and were recovering well from their fever.

Zika is not typically lethal in adults but is linked to birth defects, making the virus particularly dangerous for pregnant women.

Irish authorities say they expect to detect more Zika cases in Ireland, partly because of the substantial volume of Irish aid workers who fly back and forth from developing countries.

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2:30 p.m.

France's health minister says two French regions in the Caribbean are facing an epidemic of the Zika virus, and the government is sending extra hospital equipment and preparing extra medical staff to combat it.

Marisol Touraine told reporters Wednesday that Martinique and French Guiana have had 2,500 potential cases and about 100 confirmed Zika cases since mid-December, including 20 pregnant women and two people suffering a temporary paralysis condition called Guillain-Barre syndrome.

A few cases have been reported in Guadeloupe and Saint Martin, also part of the French Caribbean. Nine people have come to mainland France with Zika this year, but Touraine said there is no risk of epidemic on the mainland.

She said the government will expand access to testing and recommend condom use in the region.