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Jacksonville at high risk for Zika virus mosquitoes?

Study: As weather warms, risk for population growth rises

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A new study shows Jacksonville is one of the high-risk cities where the Zika virus could spread. The research, supported by the National Institutes of Health, looked at 50 cities in the US where weather and other factors could help spread the virus.

MORE: Read the study, see the models

A map from the study shows yellow cities are low-risk, the orange are moderate, and the red are high-risk. All the cities in Florida are at high-risk, mainly because of the location and climate where the virus can spread.

As temperatures go up this spring, so does the fear that the Zika virus could spread across the United States, especially in the south.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 258 cases of the Zika virus in the United States. Sixty-seven are in Florida. All of the cases have been associated with travel or sexual transmission, but the concern is that these numbers will grow.

The possibility for some of the first locally transmitted cases is also a concern.

"If you’re traveling to those high risk countries that the CDC has mentioned, mostly in the southern hemisphere, what you want to make sure is if you have any mosquito bites or any kind of illnesses, fever, rash, muscle aches or pains, then you want to see your physician," said Connie Wolfe, manager of Infection Prevention.

A new study done by the National Center for Atmospheric Research shows several high-risk cities in the Sunshine State with environments that support the mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus.

"They mention almost the entire state of Florida," Wolfe said. "They talked about Orlando, they talked about Tampa. They talked about Miami. It's not because we are southern, we do have high mosquito populations in the summer time."

Researchers used several factors in this study, including the estimated abundance of mosquitos, the number of travelers going back to those cities who have visited Latin American countries, previous cases of locally transmitted diseases from these types of mosquitos and socioeconomic factors in communities where people have less access to air conditioning and other ways to prevent mosquitos.

New Study: Risk Factors:

-Estimated abundance of mosquitos
-Number of travelers visiting Latin American countries
-Socioeconomic factors

"Everyone should follow mosquito prevention, as per the Department of Health and the CDC," Wolfe said. "You want to make sure you take away the standing water, cover your arms and legs during mosquito season, dusk to dawn is the highest time for mosquitos."

The study says it didn’t take into account mosquito control methods, which could minimize the risk for the spread of the virus.

Senate approves bill to speed Zika-virus cure

Late Thursday night, the U.S. Senate approved a bill that would speed the development of vaccines and treatments for the disease.

The legislation, introduced by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and others, would add the Zika virus to the Food and Drug Administration’s Tropical Disease Priority Review Voucher Program. When a company develops an FDA-approved treatment for one of the diseases on the priority list, it receives a voucher to fast-track the approval process for another drug of its choice.  Adding the Zika virus to FDA’s priority list creates an incentive for drug makers to accelerate their search for a cure.

“We need to figure out a way to stop the spread of this virus sooner rather than later,” Nelson said in a news release. “This bill creates an incentive for drug makers to develop a vaccine as quickly as possible.”

Once awarded, a fast-track voucher can either be used to cut the time it takes the FDA to approve another drug that the company has developed from 10 months to six, or be sold to another drug maker. In 2014, a fast-track voucher reportedly sold for $125 million.

The bill now heads to the U.S. House of Representatives for consideration.