Health Care

South Beach tourists mostly blasé about Zika in Miami Beach

Alison Nunis and Richard Firth, a Savannah, Georgia, married couple vacationing in Miami Beach, talk about the presence of the Zika virus in Miami Beach on Saturday morning, Aug. 20, 2016. They are at Lummus Park in South Beach, within a 1.5-square-mile area in which active transmission of the mosquito-borne virus was announced one day earlier. "Right now we're not terribly worried," said Nunis, 31. "We'll buy some bug spray."
Alison Nunis and Richard Firth, a Savannah, Georgia, married couple vacationing in Miami Beach, talk about the presence of the Zika virus in Miami Beach on Saturday morning, Aug. 20, 2016. They are at Lummus Park in South Beach, within a 1.5-square-mile area in which active transmission of the mosquito-borne virus was announced one day earlier. "Right now we're not terribly worried," said Nunis, 31. "We'll buy some bug spray." mhalper@miamiherald.com

Government officials might be highly worried about the spread of Zika to South Beach. But on the Saturday morning following Friday’s announcement that five local cases of Zika had spread to Miami-Dade’s most popular tourist destination, visitors seemed largely unconcerned about the mosquito-borne virus.

“It doesn’t scare me,” said Henk Wals, who was on the sixth day of a visit from the Netherlands with his girlfriend, Tine Sierunk, as they sat down to their coffee at an outdoor table at a Starbucks on Lincoln Road. Neither was wearing insect repellent. “The chances are slim. The danger is mostly to pregnant women, and we are not pregnant and not planning to be.”

Local Zika cases in South Florida began in Wynwood late last month, then moved over to South Beach with five new cases stemming from a zone bordered by Eighth Street to 28th Street, from Biscayne Bay to the Atlantic Ocean, state health department officials said Friday. There are now 36 Zika infections spread by mosquitoes in Florida, mostly in Miami-Dade County.

Carl and Julie Green, of Great Britain, strolling Lincoln Road with their 12-year-old daughter, Demi, had heard the news the night before, but shrugged off the fact that Zika had crossed the bay from Wynwood.

“How do you stop it from getting here?” Carl Green said. “You can’t put a big mosquito net in the sky.”

Alla Intezar, squinting in the morning sun on Lincoln Road, also took a practical view. “Of course, everybody’s worried,” said Intezar, who had gotten off a cruise to the Bahamas the night before, along with husband Russ and children Christina, 16, and Aryan, 12. “But what are they going to do? Close the beach? If they can kill Ebola, they can kill this too.”

Business owners and managers were adopting a cautious, wait-and-see attitude — and hoping the news wouldn’t scare away customers as it’s done in Wynwood.

Mariana Blanco, manager of Maya Tapas and Grill, also on Lincoln Road, had also heard from health officials. Blanco said she was mostly concerned for her business and her daughter, who was starting high school Monday at Miami Arts Charter school, which has a new building in Wynwood.

“My personal worry is that people will be afraid and not come to the Beach,” said Blanco, who was bustling about greeting customers at her outdoor tables, and said dinner the night before was as busy as ever. “I told my daughter, you just wear [repellent] and be careful. I don’t believe in creating panic. The news is what’s creating panic, constantly reminding people.”

Over on Ocean Drive, Leomar Ferreira and Nathally Crisostomo, visiting from Sao Paulo, Brazil, hadn’t heard that Zika was on Miami Beach — but didn’t seem worried that they had gone from one hot zone to another. Brazil has been the epicenter of Zika, since an outbreak began there last year. The South American country has recorded more than 1,800 cases of microcephaly since the Zika outbreak began, according to a recent update from the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization. Babies born with microcephaly have smaller heads and a host of other medical issues, including possible brain damage.

“I don’t have any relatives or friends with it,” Ferreira said. “And we know how to deal with it.”

Alison Nunnis, 31, and husband Richard Firth, who had arrived from Savannah, Georgia, the night before, also hadn’t heard Zika had arrived on the Beach, although they had heard there were cases of the disease in Florida. The pair were walking on Ocean Drive before heading over to Wynwood for a bartending conference Nunnis was attending.

“We just have to carry on,” Firth said.

“I guess we’ll buy some bug spray,” Nunnis said. “We don’t need to take it back to Savannah. Though eventually everything makes its way up there. I guess it’s just one more thing to worry about.”

Miami Beach sanitation workers ramped up efforts to eliminate potential mosquito breeding grounds in the wake of news that Zika cases have been identified in the region’s tourism capital. Workers with pressure washers pushed stagnant water into gu

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