A team led by Hongda Li found that Zika may damage parts of the brain that help people learn and form long-term memories. (Image: Thinkstock)

Public health authorities are looking into the possibility that mosquitoes are spreading the Zika virus in a total of nine separate areas in South Florida.

Authorities have already identified the Wynwood neighborhood in Miami as an area in which Zika has been “spreading locally.”

The Miami Herald and The New York Times are reporting that officials could identify Miami Beach as a local transmission area this week.

Florida Department of Health said today it is investigating a total of eight possible Zika transmission areas in and around Miami, and one possible transmission area in Palm Beach County. The department also said it has found two cases of locally spread Zika outside the Wynwood area.

At press time, the state health department had reported finding a total of 35 locally transmitted cases of Zika in South Florida, including 10 people who appear to have been infected outside the Wynwood area.

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Meanwhile, today, in a paper published in the online version of Cell Stem Cell, an academic journal, Hongda Li and other researchers reported that Zika could cause lasting damage in the brains of adults.

Zika, which is transmitted through mosquito bites, sex, the placenta and blood transmissions, causes brain damage in the fetuses of many mothers exposed to the virus, and it may cause a paralyzing condition called Guillain-Barre Syndrome in a small number of adults and children.

Li and her team studied what Zika does to the brain cells of adult mice. The researchers found that the virus damaged “neural progenitors,” or cells that create new brain cells, in areas of the brain related to learning and the formation of long-term memories.

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