With the rainy season about to arrive and 45 confirmed Zika cases this year, more than any other county in Florida, Miami-Dade commissioners will consider changing the county’s legal code on Tuesday to empower mosquito control workers during public health emergencies to act within two days instead of the current five to clear empty containers and other breeding grounds for the disease-spreading insects when located on private property.
Speaking on the lawn of Miami-Dade’s government center on Monday, Mayor Carlos Gimenez said the county’s Zika preparedness plans rely as much or more on residents’ cooperation as they do on spraying and surveillance efforts.
He urged residents to drain and cover flower pots, tires, jugs and other containers capable of collecting water and breeding the mosquito species that is the primary transmitter of Zika virus, Aedes aegytpi, which is endemic to South Florida.
“There are simple things that we ... can do to prevent mosquito breeding and mosquito bites,” Gimenez said. “Inspect your backyards at least once a week. Get rid of anything that has standing water.”
Just in case residents don’t cooperate, though, Gimenez said he supports an ordinance amendment proposed by Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava to clarify the county’s definition of a public health emergency and grant Miami-Dade mosquito control workers certain powers.
“This is necessary to protect the public health,” Cava said.
Under the current ordinance, property owners have five days to remove any artificial mosquito breeding ground after receiving notice from Miami-Dade before county workers are allowed to intervene. An artificial mosquito breeding ground could be a tire, bucket or any container capable of collecting water and containing five or more larvae.
The proposed amendment would shorten the time to two days before Miami-Dade workers can act.
Property owners or responsible parties would still be liable for the costs of having county workers remove the mosquito breeding grounds, and Miami-Dade can still place a lien on the property to satisfy that debt, as allowed under the current ordinance.
Gimenez said that if and when there is a locally transmitted case by mosquito bite confirmed in Miami-Dade, the county and the Florida Department of Health will work together to step up public awareness and education efforts, such as the “Drain and Cover” campaign launched in February after Gov. Rick Scott declared a public health emergency for Zika.
Alina Hudak, deputy mayor for Miami-Dade, said the county is on track to spend more than $250,000 on public education efforts. She said the county’s mosquito control budget of $1.68 million includes a fleet of 10 trucks, 17 workers who inspect for mosquitoes and respond to service calls, and aerial spraying under contract with the U.S. Air Force and private vendors.
Hudak said Miami-Dade also will consider activating a pool of about a dozen “seasonal workers” to help mosquito control personnel with truck spraying and inspections
Florida's health department, which tracks Zika cases statewide, reported only one new case on Monday — in Miami-Dade. Nearly all of the cases were reported among travelers who contracted the disease outside of the country, except for one documented case of sexual transmission in Polk County.
Zika, which can also be spread through blood transfusions, poses the greatest risk to pregnant women and their unborn children because the virus attacks fetal brain tissue and can cause congenital microcephaly, a condition in which a newborn’s head is smaller than normal and can lead to developmental challenges later in life.
Of the cases confirmed in Florida, five people are still exhibiting symptoms, which include fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes lasting seven to 10 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC has reported 503 Zika virus infections in the continental United States as of May 11.
Gimenez, who urged county residents to use insect repellent and long-sleeved shirts and pants to protect against bites, said Miami-Dade has combated mosquito-borne viruses before, including chikungunya, dengue fever and West Nile virus, and that county officials were confident in their abilities.
“We’ve been able to control those outbreaks here in Miami-Dade County,” he said, “and we want to make sure we continue to do the same thing here in this case with Zika.”
Zika infections in Florida as of May 16
Number of Cases
Cases involving pregnant women*
* Counties of pregnant women are not disclosed.
Source: Florida Department of Health