US health officials have warned pregnant women to avoid Florida's Miami Beach area after receiving confirmation that the Zika virus is active in the international tourist destination.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday said that pregnant women who are especially worried about exposure to Zika might also consider avoiding all of Miami-Dade County.

Rick Scott, governor of Florida, said state health officials have identified five cases of Zika believed to have been contracted in Miami Beach.

"This means we believe we have a new area where local transmissions are occurring in Miami Beach," he said, noting that the state had already stepped up pesticide-spraying efforts in this area.

Of the five new cases in Miami Beach, one person is a resident of New York, one person is a resident of Texas and one person is a resident of Taiwan.

"All three of these people travelled to Miami," Scott said.

READ MORE: Zika facts you need to know

In Miami Beach, the state believes Zika transmission is confined to a 1.5sq mile area located between 8th and 28th streets in the popular South Beach neighbourhood.

The virus, spread primarily via mosquitoes, has seriously affected Latin America in recent months.

The virus generally causes mild symptoms in adults, but can cause severe birth defects in the children of pregnant women who become infected with the virus.

Challenge to tourism

The new warnings represent a challenge to Florida's multi-billion-dollar tourism industry, with Miami Beach accounting for nearly half of visitor stays in the Greater Miami area.

A public health emergency was declared in the US territory on August 12 after more than 10,000 laboratory-confirmed cases were recorded, including more than a thousand pregnant women.

The connection between Zika and microcephaly first came to light last autumn in Brazil, which has now confirmed more than 1,800 cases of microcephaly that it considers to be related to Zika infection in the mothers.

 

Source: Agencies