Health Care

Miami Beach night life and mosquito control don’t mix

Miami Beach worker Melvin Gaitan uses a pressure cleaner to spray hot water in an effort to combat mosquitoes. Officials say the beach’s tall buildings and round-the-clock action make it harder to apply aerial pesticides.
Miami Beach worker Melvin Gaitan uses a pressure cleaner to spray hot water in an effort to combat mosquitoes. Officials say the beach’s tall buildings and round-the-clock action make it harder to apply aerial pesticides. EL NUEVO HERALD

The very things that make Miami Beach popular — round-the-clock partying amid a skyline of luxury condos — may make it harder to control the mosquitoes spreading the Zika virus, officials said Tuesday.

“It’s a little more difficult not just because of the high rises, but because people are out and about much longer hours,” said Janet McAllister, an entomologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advising Miami-Dade County on mosquito control efforts. Fighting the mosquito without aerial spraying, she said, “would be the way to go.”

If we can not have to do the aerial spraying, that would be the way to go.

CDC entomologist Janet McAllister

In the last week, since health officials confirmed the spread of the virus along a 20-block, 1.5-square-mile stretch that includes the city’s popular Lincoln Road, officials have upped mosquito control efforts. Florida now has at least 42 confirmed local infections, with all but three in Miami-Dade.

County officials sent truck foggers to blanket the area with insecticide Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The trucks will return later in the week, said Public Works spokeswoman Gayle Love. Next week, the county will also begin alternating between adulticide and larvicides to knock down mosquitoes, she said.

Miami Beach’s code enforcement officers also hit the area hard in search of stagnant water where mosquitoes breed. Since Friday, they handed out 19 $1,000 fines to a mix of businesses and private property owners. Violations included having standing water, leaky garbage bins, leaky air conditioning units and, in one case, water pooling on the roof of an abandoned house.

But whether aerial spraying is deployed will be up to local officials, the CDC said.

Since transmissions were confirmed in a square-mile area of Wynwood a month ago, the county has used planes to mist a two-mile area with an organic larvicide and a larger 10-mile area with the insecticide naled. The spraying helped reduce the number of mosquitoes in the two-mile area.

But while naled has been approved for mosquito control by the Environmental Protection Agency and widely used for agriculture, the insecticide still raises concerns and has been banned in Europe. Naled, an organophosphate, affects the nervous system. It is used in minute amounts to kill mosquitoes, but can also kill bees and butterflies, two pollinators that have suffered sharp declines in recent years.

Mosquito officials typically use the spray during early hours when fewer people are around. But this week, classes started for Miami-Dade County public schools, meaning many students and most high schoolers are gathering at bus stops before dawn.

The county last used naled on Aug. 18 and so far has only one more aerial application of larvicide planned for Aug. 27.

Tall buildings can also make it harder for planes to get naled to low-flying mosquitoes, said entomologist Joe Conlon, technical advisor for the American Mosquito Control Association.

In cities with tall buildings, you’ve got wind currents that won’t keep the pesticide on the ground where it will do any good.

American Mosquito Control Association Technical Adivsor Joe Conlon

“These tiny droplets are very much impacted by wind currents,” he said. “In cities with tall buildings, you’ve got wind currents that won’t keep the pesticide on the ground where it will do any good.”

McAllister also pointed out that efforts can be complicated by larger hotels and other private property where government workers need permission to enter.

“Mosquito control isn’t really in the pest control business, so they’d have to hire pest control to treat their property,” she said.

Which may relieve some pressure on the city, which has been flooded with reports from residents. The city has not yet calculated the cost of ramped up efforts, but Public Works Director Eric Carpenter said staff is working overtime and has devoted more than three times as many hours responding to mosquito reports since July when Miami-Dade County’s outbreak began.

Staff writer Joey Flechas contributed to this report.

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