Health Care

More Zika mosquitoes captured in Miami Beach, county says

A mosquito control worker uses a backpack fogger on Saturday to spray insecticide near the area where Miami-Dade County officials announced they had captured more mosquitoes carrying Zika virus. The mosquitoes were retrieved on Sept. 20 from a trap at 575 W 49th St. in Miami Beach, within the expanded zone of transmission identified on Sept. 16.
A mosquito control worker uses a backpack fogger on Saturday to spray insecticide near the area where Miami-Dade County officials announced they had captured more mosquitoes carrying Zika virus. The mosquitoes were retrieved on Sept. 20 from a trap at 575 W 49th St. in Miami Beach, within the expanded zone of transmission identified on Sept. 16. rkoltun@elnuevoherald.com

More mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus have been captured in Miami Beach — this time in a new neighborhood, near the La Gorce Golf Course, Miami-Dade officials announced Saturday.

The batch of Zika-positive mosquitoes were retrieved on Sept. 20 from a trap at 575 West 49th St., a single-family home in the Lake View subdivision, making it the sixth such find since August and the first in Mid Beach. The other five locations were all in South Beach.

Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services tested the mosquito samples twice, and they will now be sent to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for confirmation, said Mike Hernandez, a Miami-Dade spokesman.

“Miami-Dade has seen false positives on tested traps in the past,” Hernandez said in a written statement. He added that two subsequent samples of mosquitoes taken from the same trap location have tested negative for the virus.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam announced the finding later Saturday afternoon, and also identified the trap location for the first time. The agriculture department has tested nearly 64,000 mosquitoes across Florida since May, and the six samples from Miami Beach are the only ones to test positive.

On Saturday, public health officials visited the neighborhood where the sixth sample was found to alert residents and distribute pamphlets, mosquito repellent wipes and other materials. Hernandez said county workers also inspected the area for mosquito breeding sites and sprayed insecticide within a 1/8-mile area surrounding the property.

The announcement marked the first time that Miami-Dade officials identified the site of Zika-positive mosquitoes as soon as they received notice of test results from the state — a break in practice for the county, which previously had withheld the information from the public, including property owners and residents living at those locations.

The last time that state officials announced they had found mosquitoes carrying Zika in Miami Beach, Miami-Dade waited nearly a month to reveal all the sites — after the Miami Herald filed a lawsuit to get the locations — on Sept. 28.

After the revelation, Miami Beach residents living and working near those sites said public health officials never told them that the traps were as close as their back yards and school yards, potentially upping their risk. Subsequent samples captured at the same sites have been negative for the virus, Miami-Dade officials said.

Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services first announced on Sept. 1 that three of 19 traps in Miami Beach had captured Zika-positive mosquitoes — and identified only one location, the Miami Beach Botanical Garden. A fourth batch was announced on Sept. 9, and a fifth on Sept. 16.

All of the infected mosquitoes were captured inside the 1.5-square-mile area initially identified on Aug. 19 as having active spread of the virus, between Eighth and 28th Streets from the ocean to the bay. The transmission zone was expanded north on Sept. 16 to a 4.5-square-mile area, from Eighth Street to 63rd Street.

 

The sixth batch of Zika-positive mosquitoes reported Saturday is the first found inside the expanded area.

Prior locations were identified after the Herald’s lawsuit triggered a dispute between the county and the Florida Department of Health about releasing the information. The county initially denied the Herald’s requests, claiming the records were exempt from Florida’s public records law because they were part of an epidemiological investigation.

But on Sept. 27, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez sent a letter to State Surgeon General Celeste Philip, advising her that the county would release the locations unless otherwise instructed by the health department in writing. Both Philip and Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s office responded that the county was free to notify the public.

On Friday, while at a press conference hosted by Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart regarding federal funds for Zika response, Gimenez said again that the Florida Department of Health had instructed the county to keep the information secret.

It was never our intent not to make it public.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez

“They quoted confidentiality concerns. They quoted HIPAA [federal patient privacy] laws. ... So, our attorneys were very wary of that issue,” said Gimenez, who has since vowed that Miami-Dade will report all new finds of Zika-positive mosquitoes immediately.

“It was never our intent not to make it public,” Gimenez added. “We were following the recommendations and basically the orders of the state not to do that. When the state decided not to join us, that’s when we said, ‘Wait a minute, you’re not joining us? You’re the ones telling us not to do this.’ That’s when this controversy came about. ... But if they don’t have an issue, then I certainly don’t have an issue.”

A total of 948 people in Florida have contracted Zika this year, with 808 travel-related infections — including 97 pregnant women — and 139 local cases. One infection has been labeled “undetermined” after a health department investigation failed to identify the area of exposure.

Miami Herald staff Joey Flechas contributed to this report.

Daniel Chang: 305-376-2012, @dchangmiami

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