As the health department reported three new local Zika infections in Miami-Dade and 12 new travel-related cases elsewhere in the state on Wednesday, a national health advocacy group accused Broward officials of forcing the removal of two billboards promoting condom use to prevent sexual transmission of the virus.
A total of 557 people in Florida have contracted Zika this year, according to the health department, including 63 pregnant women. Of those, 33 are locally acquired cases, with all but seven traced to a one-square-mile zone north of downtown Miami that health officials say is the only area with active transmission of Zika virus in the state.
Epidemiologists continue to interview residents and collect blood and urine samples inside the designated zone, but they also have launched investigations into six Zika infections that occurred outside of that area. One is in Palm Beach, and the other five are in Miami-Dade. Health officials have not said whether they suspect any of the local cases were sexually transmitted.
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In Broward, where there has been one locally acquired case so far, the local chapter of the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation accused Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler and the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau of forcing the removal of billboards that feature an illustration of an opened condom with the words “prevents Zika transmission” and directing people to the website useacondom.com.
Seiler and Stacy Ritter, president of the tourism bureau, said they never complained about the billboards. Both rejected the AHF’s accusation that they forced the removal of the signs.
“We had nothing to do with taking this billboard down,” Ritter said. “This is a dispute between the AIDS Health Foundation and whoever owns the billboard.”
This is a public health threat. Obviously, the messaging needs to get out.
Michael Kahane, AIDS Healthcare Foundation
Seiler said he never even saw the billboards. “I’ve never discussed the billboards with anybody,” he said. “I have no idea what they’re talking about.”
The billboards went up Aug. 5, with one near the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and the second along Interstate 595 west of I-95. The signs were removed Aug. 15, said Michael Kahane, AHF’s southern bureau chief.
“The reasoning that I’ve been given,” Kahane said, “is that the tourism board was upset about the fact that there were signs mentioning Zika by the airport, which they felt would be a turn off for folks visiting Florida, and obviously their focus is on tourism. So they called the mayor’s office.”
Kahane said AHF rents the billboards from Outfront Media, whose representatives could not be reached for comment late Wednesday, and that the company informed him by telephone that it was removing the signs because of the mayor’s and tourism board’s complaints.
“They didn’t pressure us,” Kahane said. “They pressured the signage company.”
A third billboard is still up in South Miami-Dade, where Florida’s Turnpike and U.S. 1 merge. Two more are planned to go up soon along I-95 near the I-195 interchange, Kahane said.
“This is a public health threat,” he said. “Obviously, the messaging needs to get out.”
While health advocacy groups like AHF work on messaging about sexual transmission of Zika, Florida’s Department of Health continues to investigate local cases. Of the three new local infections reported in Miami-Dade on Wednesday, only one was inside the designated zone in the Wynwood area.
Florida’s Department of Health has not disclosed the locations of suspected local Zika infections outside of Wynwood because the agency does not consider one case evidence of ongoing transmission.
Zika cases reported in Florida as of Aug. 17
Number of Cases
Total cases not involving pregnant women
. . .
. . .
Cases involving pregnant women regardless of symptoms
* Counties of pregnant women are not disclosed.
** Does not include locally transmitted cases.
Source: Florida Department of Health