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Health News Florida Reporters Talk Zika

Creative Commons
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott now says the number of locally acquired Zika cases had climbed to 15.  Florida is the first state in the US to have locally acquired cases of the disease, and so far officials say the transmission’s confined to a small area: one square mile in Wynwood, which is just north of downtown Miami.  Scott’s asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to activate its emergency response team.

“We’ll be working with the FDA and blood establishments in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties to test each individual unit of blood collected,” said Scott last Friday.

“Additionally, statewide, we’ll be ensure safe blood for pregnant women by screening units from counties without Zika.”

Meanwhile, efforts are being taken to step up spraying and other mosquito controls. Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said task forces are ready to deploy to support local control programs.

“Those will be boots on the ground in the impacted areas with backpack sprayers doing surveillance eliminating habitats of these mosquitoes,” said Putnam.

So how are residents reacting to the news? And what impact is it having on the tourists flooding into the state? According to one poll in the Washington Post, only one in three Americans are worried they or someone in their immediate family could contract the disease. Public Health officials in Britain are warning pregnant women to put off non essential travel to Florida.

Scott compared preparing for Zika to preparing for a hurricane.

“The way you do well at this is to get ready,” said Scott.

“We’re a tourism state. We continue to welcome families here. But we continue to tell people to stay prepared and wear mosquito spray.”

90.7’s host of Intersection Matthew Peddie talked to WLRN health reporter Sammy Mack and WMFE health reporter Abe Aboraya about how Florida officials are responding to the disease.

How are Miami residents reacting to the news?

Mack: Kind of a mixed bag. There are people who are really concerned and worried, and those tend to be the people who have a stake in the worst outcomes of Zika, and if you’re a pregnant woman, the worst thing that can happen is damage to the baby. And then there are other parts of the city that are saying ‘Woah, calm down.’ We got a press alert from the Greater Miami Convention and Visitor’s Bureau saying the beaches are still open. There are a lot of people in the tourism side of things who are stressing it’s just one square mile, don’t be afraid to visit our parts of Miami. But I think the realization that it’s here and it may be here for a while is starting to sink in.

How is the Federal government working with Florida to control this outbreak? What kind of help is Florida asking for?

Aboraya: They’re getting a CDC Emergency Response Team, or CERT. They’re a group of, I want to say 8 people that are coming to Florida. This is in addition to the one CDC official that was here previously. They’re colloquially known as the ‘Disease Hunter’ groups. So they’re going to be getting help in the sense of logistics, lab testing, expertise, and then they are going to have these people hunting to see if there’s more Zika and to figure out why they’re having such a hard time controlling it in this area as well.

Is this a typical timeline for when federal officials get involved in the outbreak of a disease?

Aboraya: I think that’s going to be one of the questions that’s going to come up as we go forward with this: should the state of Florida asked for this disease hunter teams sooner? Now the flip side of that is that Florida has dealt with diseases like Chikungunya and dengue fever, these other mosquito borne diseases from the aedes aegypti mosquito before. They’ve managed to contain those outbreaks to relatively small numbers in the past. So maybe there’s a sense that Florida can handle it on its own, with the things we have in place already.

What are health officials telling pregnant women and their health care providers now that there are local cases in South Florida?

Mack: Well, the big message to pregnant women is ‘don’t get bit by mosquitoes,’ which is hard to do when you live in South Florida and it’s summer and it’s rainy. They’re telling them to wear long sleeves, long pants and cover up. Wear your mosquito repellent, preferably DEET or one of the other ones that have been proven to work. And then for the providers, the recommendations are now changing. We heard yesterday that women who have traveled to this affected area should be talking to their doctors about potentially getting screened. If they live in that area- and there are women who live in that area who are pregnant- they should be getting screened for the virus, and before this, the recommendation was only if they had traveled to a place outside of the U.S. or to Puerto Rico, that had an active outbreak. But now that guideline is being applied to women who have traveled to this neighborhood in Miami.

Are you seeing a big increase in spraying and other control efforts in Miami?

Mack: Yes we are. I just read that the ‘boots on the ground’ part of the mosquito department has gone from 12 people to building the ranks up to 32 people. Because part of the issue with this is that you can’t really do aerial spraying for this kind of mosquito. It is really well adapted to breed in kind of tucked away, little tiny pockets of water. A bottle cap turned upside down could breed apparently up to 300 mosquitoes. So what’s tough about it is you need people with backpacks, going through and turning things over and looking under flower pots and getting in the areas that if you’re a home owner you do what you can to control mosquitoes on your own property, but you can’t control mosquitoes in an entire county.

It sounds like a tough mosquito to control. Is that why we’re seeing authorities having trouble really getting a handle on this at this stage?

Aboraya: They’re doing these aggressive mosquito control tactics in the Wynwood area, and we heard from the CDC yesterday that it’s not working, and they don’t know why. They don’t know if potentially the mosquitoes are developing a resistance. They don’t know if because of the mixed use, urban areas there are pockets that they can’t find, or maybe it’s just the nature of the beast with the aedes aegypti mosquito that they’re trying to get them, they’re not getting them all and it’s going to continue to transmit that way.