Health Care

South Beach community attends Zika town hall

State Rep. David Richardson talks to a crowded room, as Florida Surgeon General Celeste Philip looks on, during a town hall meeting called by State Rep. David Richardson on Monday in South Beach to talk to the community about Zika virus.
State Rep. David Richardson talks to a crowded room, as Florida Surgeon General Celeste Philip looks on, during a town hall meeting called by State Rep. David Richardson on Monday in South Beach to talk to the community about Zika virus.

South Beach resident Cynthia Byrd is concerned about Zika virus and the fact that it isn’t spread only by mosquitoes.

“It’s also sexually transmitted, and that’s a gamechanger,” said the 27-year-old, who lives in the zone where the mosquito-borne virus is being transmitted. “Especially in Wynwood and Miami Beach, where there’s a lot of partying. People hook up.”

Byrd was one of dozens who attended a town hall meeting Monday evening at Waverly Condominium to express their worries and learn more about Zika. The community meeting, hosted by State Rep. David Richardson, featured a panel of state and local officials explaining the virus and efforts to control its transmission. It was the first public forum there since local transmission was announced on the island, and it was held a few hours after health officials announced a new locally-transmitted case, the sixth such case in Miami Beach.

Residents expressed a wide range of concerns and questions, asking about current research on the virus and its effects on the elderly and people with already-compromised immune systems, and voicing frustration about the delay in getting tests results for pregnant women.

State Surgeon General Celeste Philip explained that Guillan-Barré Syndrome, a rare illness in the nervous system that can cause muscle weakness and paralysis, has been connected to Zika.

“Although most people recover, it’s obviously very distressing,” she said.

Joseph Magazine told the panel about a personal frustration. His wife, who works outside and is five months pregnant, was bitten by a mosquito and developed a rash, so she went to Mount Sinai Medical Center to get tested for Zika. It’s been three weeks, and he was told it would take four to six weeks to get results.

“We should be shopping for baby clothes right now,” he said, showing emotion.

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

Philip and county health officials told him afterward they would look into his case.

City Manager Jimmy Morales summarized the city’s efforts to eliminate standing water on both public and private property. He said city workers have ripped up a few dozen bromeliads from the landscaping along Lincoln Road, where inspectors found high counts of mosquitoes in recent days.

Landscaping where mosquitoes can breed, he said, has been the biggest challenge.

State health officials confirmed two weeks ago that Zika virus was being transmitted locally in most of South Beach, in a zone stretching from Fifth Street to 28th Street. A travel advisory warns pregnant women against traveling to this area and the zone of local transmission in Wynwood.

In response to the outbreak, city and county officials have ramped up mosquito control efforts. Beach public works and code enforcement employees have been deployed to drain standing water, sweep back alleys and drop larvicide pellets into storm drains. Private property owners with standing water visible from the sidewalk are also being fined.

Beach business leaders have yet to see an anticipated downturn since local transmission was announced, but they are watching closely. Earlier on Monday, the city-owned Miami Beach Botanical Garden announced it would close for a few days to inspect and treat for mosquitoes. The garden is a voting precinct, so people who want to vote in Tuesday’s primary will be redirected to City Hall.

Maria Ramírez de Mendoza got the Zika virus while she was vacationing in Venezuela during the first trimester of her pregnancy. Her baby girl, Micaela Milagros Mendoza, was born with complications stemming from the virus.

Joey Flechas: 305-376-3602, @joeflech

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