“Our people are very, very casual about mosquitoes,” says Father Frank O’Loughlin, director of the Guatemalan-Maya Center, of the community the organization serves in and around Lake Worth.
Many of the the group’s clients, he says, are farmworkers who spend their days picking bell peppers and their nights in mobile homes with broken screens and missing windows. “Try to talk to people who are living in those conditions and working in the fields about the danger of mosquitoes, and they blow you off,” O’Loughlin says matter-of-factly. “They think you’re being rather alarmist.”
The reason for that, he says, is twofold: First, because people are already all too familiar with the effects of other mosquito-borne illnesses—malaria, dengue and chikungunya—from their homes in Guatemala. And secondly, he says, “because we haven’t had a sufficient education campaign.”
O’Loughlin contrasted the aggressive outreach efforts of Monroe County’s Mosquito Control Board with the state’s response, which has put more emphasis on spraying and diagnosis, he says, than on prevention. “It took Her Britannic Majesty to put this on the map,” he says, with a travel advisory to Britons traveling in Florida.
“Who said under no conditions make a baby in Florida?” O’Loughlin asked dismissively. “If we have the outbreak—these are not your gated community retirees—our population are the people who are going to have the pregnancies.”
At the Guatemalan-Maya center, outreach worker Micaela Martín has spent much of the last six months going door to door to spread the word on Zika, multiplying her efforts in Spanish with help from volunteers who speak Mayan languages like Q’anjob’al and Mam—largely without the support of local government agencies. “They have handouts in English and Spanish, and they did share some with us,” she says of the county health department. “It’s just that when you’re dealing with people that don’t know how to read, how to write,” she says, “a flyer will only go so far.”