Pregnant And Reporting On Zika In Miami

Aug 17, 2016

There's only one place in the continental U.S. where mosquitoes are known to be transmitting the Zika virus: Miami's Wynwood neighborhood. Pregnant women are arming themselves against mosquitoes.

Renee Montagne talks to Health News Florida reporter Sammy Mack of member station WLRN-FM in Miami, who is pregnant and dealing with the city's Zika outbreak.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

There's only one place here in the U.S. where mosquitoes are known to be transmitting the Zika virus, and that's the trendy Wynwood neighborhood in Miami. Florida health officials believe most of the state's 30 local cases were contracted there. Sammy Mack is a health reporter at Miami's NPR member station WLRN. She's been covering the outbreak, and she's pregnant, part of the most at-risk group because of the harm Zika can cause to a fetus. Thank you for talking to us about this.

SAMMY MACK, BYLINE: Thank you for having me.

MONTAGNE: Now, talk to us about your daily routine. Knowing that you're three months pregnant, what all do you do every morning when you - before you leave the house?

MACK: I wear long sleeves and long pants, which, mind you, it is August in Miami. So that is not what I would normally be doing. And I wear buckets of bug repellent. And I walk out the door and hope for the best.

MONTAGNE: Probably, usually, when you're pregnant, one of the things you wouldn't be doing is using a bug spray with chemicals in it.

MACK: So DEET is approved for safe use in pregnant women. That said, I am pretty nauseous right now. So the smell of the stuff is awful. I kind of gag my way through it when I put it on.

MONTAGNE: Yeah. Well, when the state of Florida announced that there were locally transmitted cases of Zika and that they were in this Wynwood neighborhood of Miami especially, how did you react?

MACK: My offices, the studio that I'm in right now, are about five blocks south of where the CDC has advised pregnant women not to go to for now. When we finally did get an idea of where the locally acquired cases were happening, it was unnerving. And the CDC has said that pregnant women who've been to that area since June 15 should talk to their doctors about getting tested, so I did. I got my test on Friday, and I should hear back within 7 to 10 business days.

MONTAGNE: How easy or hard was that to do?

MACK: For me, it was pretty easy. I am a pregnant woman. I fall into the parameters of who is being recommended to get tested. The state is not doing any kind of partner testing, though, so my husband can't get tested through the state. Theoretically, we could go through a private lab. From what I understand, depending on your insurance, they can cost anywhere from $165 to close to $800.

MONTAGNE: Have you been bitten by a mosquito in this last weeks - since this outbreak?

MACK: (Sighing) Yeah. I have a mosquito bite on my right ankle right now. And I have never been so aware of where my mosquito bites are. I've never catalogued them like this before. But yeah. Yeah, I've got one. And it's - it is a little menace on my ankle, and I'm trying not to think too much about it.

MONTAGNE: And you've talked to other pregnant women in somewhat your same situation there in Miami?

MACK: Yes. I interviewed one pregnant woman who told me that she had gotten a mosquito bite the morning that we talked. And she cried in her car about it. And, you know, again, we are in South Florida. Mosquitoes are a fact of life. They are not the sort of thing that would have made this woman cry a month ago. But they have taken on such a sort of terrifying presence. And all of the unknowns around what can happen with the Zika of virus are really haunting a lot of pregnant women that I talk to. I have started disclosing to people that I am pregnant when I interview them, and there's this sort of instant sisterhood of - man, what are we up against?

MONTAGNE: I gather that the health department was supposed to have Zika prevention kits available for pregnant women, and you went to pick one up.

MACK: This is really interesting. So about two and a half weeks ago, we got a press release that we had our first two potentially locally acquired cases. The press release did say there would be Zika prevention kits available to pregnant women in the area. And so the next day, I walked directly from my first ultrasound to the health department, which is two blocks down the street. And nobody knew what I was talking about. And fast forward, it took about two weeks, but I finally got one yesterday.

MONTAGNE: What are the things that are in these kits?

MACK: So there is a thing of DEET bug spray. There is a can of permethrin bug spray, which is - the difference is DEET is a repellent that you can put on your skin and your clothes. Permethrin is a chemical that actually kills the mosquitoes. You don't want to put it directly on your skin. These things called Mosquito Dunks, which have this bacteria that kills mosquito larva - so you toss them in standing water. And then also, it includes condoms because one of the modes of transmission is sexual transmission - sexual contact. And then there is a bed net. Think about that for a second. In the continental United States, one of the ways that the health department is asking us to protect ourselves is to consider using a bed net.

MONTAGNE: Well, Sammy, thank you for sharing all this with us.

MACK: Thank you so much.

MONTAGNE: Sammy Mack is a reporter with NPR member station WLRN in Miami.

Sammy Mack is a reporter with WLRN in Miami. WLRN is part of Health News Florida, which receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.