As concerns of a Zika outbreak in South Florida continue following two suspected locally acquired cases of the virus this week, Miami-Dade County mosquito control officials are working to increase awareness on how locals can keep Zika at bay.
“We are at the front lines of this situation with Zika right now,” Miami-Dade Mosquito Control Operations Manager Chalmers Vasquez said during a press conference Friday at the division’s headquarters in Doral. “We are working every day almost, around the clock. We expect that this situation will not get out of hand.”
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The effort to inform locals comes less than a day after local health officials identified a second possible case of the mosquito-borne virus originating in Broward County — not from a person who contracted the virus while traveling abroad. Earlier this week, the first potential case of locally acquired Zika was found in Miami-Dade County.
The numbers of travel-related cases continue to climb as well. On Friday, the state health department announced 19 more cases: three in Orange County, two in Hillsborough, two in Osceola, two in Seminole, two in Volusia, one in Broward, one in Miami-Dade, one in Okeechobee, one in Palm Beach, one in Pasco, one in Polk, one in St. Johns and one involving a pregnant women.
Make no mistake about it, the virus is flowing through Miami International Airport every day.
Chalmers Vasquez, Miami-Dade County Mosquito Control operations manager
As the investigation continues into the locally acquired cases, Vasquez said mosquitoes in the affected area near the Miami-Dade case were trapped Monday and sent for testing at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers. So far, the first batch of mosquitoes tested negative for the virus, Vasquez said.
Mosquito traps and spraying in that neighborhood have already decreased the mosquito population there, according to the mosquito control division. The Florida Health Department has yet to disclose the location of the Zika cases in Miami-Dade and Broward, but Vasquez said the Miami-Dade case happened in a rural area with little vehicle traffic.
In the Broward case, the health department urged residents in affected neighborhoods to cooperate with requests for blood and urine samples to help determine the number of people infected. Zika can be difficult to diagnose because only one in five infected people show symptoms, which include fever, joint pain, rash and red eyes lasting seven to 10 days.
Lilian Rivera, administrator of the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade, wouldn’t comment on the specific measures the department is taking surrounding the local Zika case, citing the “ongoing investigation.”
But she did say Friday that the department is following the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 58-page plan for responding to a local Zika transmission, which includes deploying a CDC Emergency Response Team capable of providing a wide range of help, from epidemiological investigation to public outreach.
The state health department said Friday that about 200 people have been interviewed and tested as part of the investigations, and officials are awaiting lab results. Dr. Marc Fischer, a medical epidemiologist with the CDC, also arrived in Florida Friday to assist with mapping and testing methodology, the state said.
The mosquito control unit advises locals to wear mosquito repellent on a daily basis and drain standing water from containers such as flower pots and garbage cans where mosquitoes can breed.
Meanwhile, the mosquito control unit is responding to referral requests from the health department to spray and test for mosquitoes in Miami-Dade. The unit set out to spray five local homes Friday morning, taking samples from bromeliads, which often collect standing water and breed mosquitoes, dumping containers with water, and spraying lush areas where virus-carrying mosquitoes may concentrate.
The mosquito control unit has responded to nearly 600 referral requests since late November. The number of referrals escalated this week after the announcement of the locally acquired cases, Vasquez said.
The unit advises people to wear mosquito repellent daily and drain standing water from containers such as flower pots and garbage cans where mosquitoes can breed.
600 Number of referral requests to the Miami-Dade Mosquito Control unit for mosquito testing and spraying
As of Friday, the CDC reported 1,404 people in 46 states have contracted the disease. Nearly all cases were contracted by travelers who were infected with the virus while traveling abroad, 15 cases were sexually transmitted and one was contracted through laboratory exposure.
Moving into the summer, vacation travel and travel for the Olympics is being closely monitored, Vasquez said, for its potential to bring visitors infected with Zika into South Florida.
“We believe the next two to three months are going to be critical,” he said. “We are taking measures to avoid a situation where someone who came in contact with the virus will come in contact with the local population. Make no mistake about it, the virus is flowing through Miami International Airport every day.”
Zika cases reported in Florida as of July 22
Number of Cases (all travel related)
Total cases not involving pregnant women
Cases involving pregnant women regardless of symptoms*
Source: State Department of Health