Fighting Zika on the streets
Zika virus is spreading in South Florida, state health officials confirmed on Tuesday, with reports of a new locally transmitted case in Miami-Dade County — this one outside of the Miami neighborhood where the nation’s first cluster of local infections emerged in July.
Florida health officials said a one-square-mile neighborhood north of downtown — around Wynwood — remains the only area in the state with active, ongoing Zika transmission by mosquitoes. But the new local infection indicates that mosquitoes are spreading the disease beyond this isolated district.
“We are investigating that carefully,” said Sarah Revell, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health said late Tuesday, “and if we do identify another area of local transmission, we will put out an advisory.”
The new case raises the number of locally transmitted Zika infections in Florida to 15 people, including 13 in Miami-Dade and two in Broward. Health officials also reported three new travel-related Zika infections in Miami-Dade on Tuesday, raising the statewide total to 336 people who acquired the disease abroad.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced that airplanes will begin spraying insecticides on Wednesday morning across a 10-square-mile area of Miami that includes the neighborhood where the virus is spreading.
Aerial spraying is not as effective at eradicating the mosquito species most capable of spreading Zika virus, Aedes aegytpi, because it tends to live and breed near covered structures and stay near humans. But Gimenez said the county had to try.
“Some say it's effective. Some say it’s not that effective. But it’s been recommended by the state and the federal government and we’re going to do it,” he said at Green Space Wynwood, a retail and office building in the heart of the affected neighborhood.
“If it has a success rate of 10, 20, 30 percent,” Gimenez said, “then that’s 30 percent more than what we had before.”
The aerial spraying comes after weeks of aggressive pest-control efforts — including hand spraying and chemical applications to kill larvae — failed to reduce the threat of mosquito-borne Zika infections in an area that includes the Wynwood and Midtown Miami districts.
Gimenez announced the new effort one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged pregnant women not to visit the area north of downtown Miami because of ongoing Zika virus transmission — an unprecedented travel advisory for the continental United States — and Florida Gov. Rick Scott asked the federal agency to send an emergency response team to help.
Miami’s isolated Zika outbreak also triggered a bipartisan and nearly unanimous response from Florida’s congressional delegation, with 26 of the state’s 27 members of the U.S. House of Representatives signing a letter to the CDC asking for more money to combat the virus.
The CDC has sent more than $8 million in Zika-specific funding to Florida already, but an additional $720,000 for the state announced on Tuesday was deemed “paltry” by the congressional delegation, who noted that the Sunshine State has been hit harder than most.
As politicians struggled to shake loose more federal funding to combat Zika, Miami police worked on the ground in Wynwood and elsewhere on Tuesday to help fight the virus — handing out cans of insect repellent to the homeless and passersby.
With the thermometer pushing 90 degrees, James Bernat, homeless coordinator for the Miami Police Department, walked along Northwest First Avenue on the southern edge of Wynwood with a group of cops. On one block, they rested a can of insect repellent against the belly of a shirtless man napping on a cardboard box under large graffiti faces painted on a wall.
Farther up the street, Antonio Price, 51, sat on a crate in the shade when the group approached him. Price said he was thankful for the free can of repellent, but he wasn’t very concerned about the Zika virus, which can cause birth defects and neurological disorders.
“I got 99 problems,” Price said, “but Zika ain’t one.”
Summer rain and heat, however, raises the threat of mosquito-borne diseases, said Glendina Roseborough, a sanitation worker who was using large tongs to pluck trash from puddles of water after Monday night’s storms.
“People in the area need to take precautions,” said Roseborough, who carried four bottles of water and a can of insect repellent on her rolling trash can, offering complimentary sprays to everyone who walked by.
With the neighborhood north of downtown identified as the only place in the state with ongoing Zika transmission, Florida health officials on Tuesday clarified that at least 12 of Miami-Dade’s local cases acquired the disease inside the one-square-mile area — and not at a specific “work site,” as CDC officials had said this week.
“We have narrowed it down to a pretty tight area,” Revell said.
County officials will continue trapping, counting and testing mosquitoes for Zika virus in the area, though to date no insects have tested positive.
Mayor Gimenez says the county has invested more resources to fight Zika over the last five months, including the aerial spraying. Residents in the spraying area were notified Tuesday night via a reverse 911 call to landlines.
The insecticide, called Naled, is used to kill adult mosquitoes and larvae. Lee Casey, Miami-Dade’s environmental affairs director, said the chemical is not harmful to humans and pets.
“It's pretty safe stuff,” he said.
Casey added that spraying will take place in the early morning and late evening when the Zika mosquitoes are most active and the impact on other insects is minimal.
County officials would not verify how long they will use aerial spraying in the area, and Casey was unable to state a target for reducing the mosquito population in the area.
“We spray and then do surveillance to determine the impact,” he said.
Miami Herald Staff Writer Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.
Tips for controlling mosquitoes outside your home
▪ Once a week, empty and scrub, turn over, cover, or throw out any items that hold water like tires, buckets, planters, toys, pools, birdbaths, flowerpot saucers or trash containers. Mosquitoes lay eggs near water.
▪ Tightly cover water storage containers (buckets, cisterns, rain barrels) so that mosquitoes cannot get inside to lay eggs.
▪ For containers without lids, use wire mesh with holes smaller than an adult mosquito.
▪ Use larvicides to treat large containers of water that will not be used for drinking and cannot be covered or dumped out.
▪ If you have a septic tank, repair cracks or gaps. Cover open vent or plumbing pipes. Use wire mesh with holes smaller than an adult mosquito.