Sharon Nagel normally carries a handheld sprayer while scouring for mosquito breeding areas. But on Saturday morning, the Miami-Dade mosquito inspector had a five-liter drum of pesticides strapped to her back and a fanny pack brimming with jars of chemicals.
This was because state and federal health officials announced Friday that at least two people were infected with Zika after being bitten by mosquitoes within a one-square-mile area north of downtown Miami. A total of four people in South Florida have acquired the virus from local mosquitoes, marking the first locally spread Zika cases in the continental United States.
Nagel was one of four county inspectors on patrol in the area around Wynwood on Saturday, part of an increased effort by local waste management and public health officials to keep the virus from spreading. Nagel walked up and down Northwest 28th Street between Second and Sixth avenues, stopping to inspect drains, dump out standing water and talk to residents about how to keep mosquitoes off their property.
Wynwood resident Diana Ozuna had learned that her neighborhood was the epicenter of the Zika outbreak Friday while watching the evening news.
“I was pretty shocked,” Ozuna said, adding that she immediately got up to close the doors in her house. “I’m going to start using repellent. I can’t afford to get sick.”
I’m going to start using repellent. I can’t afford to get sick
Diana Ozuna, Wynwood resident
Ozuna was pushing her 20-month-old daughter Lianah in a stroller along Second Avenue, a few blocks from where Nagel was inspecting. Ozuna said she had “double sprayed” her daughter with insect repellent before leaving the house that morning.
Further south, at St. Agnes Rainbow Village, a public housing complex, resident Francisco Colon said he and his wife were concerned about Zika. “We’re worried about it because we don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. Colon said his wife had sprayed for mosquitoes outside their home after they learned about the local cases on the news.
But others in the area were not aware that the virus had been spread locally. Outside a hair salon on Fifth Avenue in Wynwood, Vanessa Aquino said she had no idea local Zika cases had been reported in the neighborhood where she works.
Even so, Aquino said she has recently taken extra precautions to keep her nine-month-old daughter from contracting the virus after hearing about Zika cases in other areas. “When I see mosquitoes, I take her inside,” she said.
Aquino was happy to see Nagel inspecting in Wynwood. “I know she’ll be safer,” she said, referring to her daughter. “I can take her outside so she can play.”
Part of Nagel’s job is to make sure residents are aware of the danger and caution them about leaving standing water near their homes. At one apartment building on 28th Street, Nagel greeted a resident and asked for his permission to walk around the property. Out back, she found an inflatable swimming pool, but saw no signs of mosquito breeding, and dumped out an orange bucket filled with water.
Back on the street, Nagel stopped periodically at drains with standing water and dropped chemicals inside: a white Natular tablet and a teaspoon-sized sprinkle of brown Altosid pellets, both larvicides that kill mosquito larvae. Then she made a note on her clipboard, jotting down the location of the drain and the action she had taken. Nagel frequently pulled out her smart phone to ask “Siri,” the voice recognition system, for her exact location.
In addition to the four Miami-Dade mosquito inspectors, personnel hired through a contractor for the Department of Solid Waste Management were also spraying for mosquitoes. Nagel said a department supervisor and a biologist were in the neighborhood as well.
The area identified by Florida health officials includes parts of Wynwood, Midtown and the Design District. It is bordered by Northwest Fifth Avenue to the west, U.S. 1 (Biscayne Boulevard) to the east, Northwest/Northeast 38th Street to the north, and Northwest/Northeast 20th Street to the south.
The increased efforts to spray for mosquitoes in the area started several weeks ago when the first local case was diagnosed. Florida health officials and local mosquito inspectors have also been trapping and testing mosquitoes in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have cautioned pregnant women to avoid traveling to areas with Zika virus transmission, CDC Director Tom Frieden said Friday that the agency is not advising expectant mothers to stay away from Miami. Zika has been linked to microcephaly and other neurological disorders in infants.