Miami-Dade County

Mayoral candidate gives away Zika ‘treatment’ and gets in hot water

Alfred Santamaria, a candidate for Miami-Dade mayor, addresses reporters in Wynwood on Tuesday, Aug. 23, while handing out Zycazin, a product made by a donor that he said can “neutralize” Zika. Health officials say there is no treatment for Zika.
Alfred Santamaria, a candidate for Miami-Dade mayor, addresses reporters in Wynwood on Tuesday, Aug. 23, while handing out Zycazin, a product made by a donor that he said can “neutralize” Zika. Health officials say there is no treatment for Zika. dhanks@miamiherald.com

Zika has become a top campaign issue during this election season, but only one candidate has actually offered a product to treat it. And that’s when the trouble began.

On Tuesday, Miami-Dade mayoral hopeful Alfred Santamaria summoned the media to Wynwood, where he revealed a new Miami-based product called Zycazin, which he said could “neutralize the effect of the Zika.” With cameras in tow, he began distributing the free bottles — sold by a top political donor’s company — to nearby residents.

“If you put this product on the bite of a mosquito, it will neutralize the effect of the Zika,” Santamaria, 36, said while holding a bottle of the clear liquid. “This is a protection … So we’re giving it out.”

Santmaria’s pitch sidestepped one significant complication: Health officials say there is no known treatment for Zika, and that doctors can’t do anything to block the mosquito-borne virus once it enters the bloodstream. “They’re not going to neutralize Zika with this product,” said Aileen Marty, a professor of infectious diseases at Florida International University. “Putting something on the surface of the skin is too little, too late.”

Wednesday saw Santamaria, a first-time candidate, walking back his Zycazin comments from the day before. He called a press conference outside the county’s election headquarters in Doral to say he never meant to suggest Zycazin could do more than relieve the itching and redness that comes from any mosquito bite. “The word ‘treatment,’ I think it has been taken out of context here,” he said. “My political enemies are trying to stir the waters and distort my words.”

He arrived in a caravan of vehicles, which had left Homestead from another campaign event. This featured a squad of skydivers holding a Santamaria for Mayor sign on their way down to earth. A crowd of about 30 supporters waited for him, as a studio version of a Santamaria jingle in Spanish played from a speaker.

Axis HealthCare, a Coconut Grove firm with ties to Santamaria’s election effort, makes Zycazin, which the company’s website said will not be available to the public until next month. The firm shares an address and a corporate officer with Good Sound, a recording studio that has donated more than $200,000 worth of free services to Santamaria’s mayoral race.

Under the headline “Alfred Santamaria Takes Zika Matter Into His Own Hands,” the campaign issued a press release Tuesday saying the candidate “partnered with the developers of the only FDA-approved treatment against the Zika virus, Zycazin.”

Leon Atencia, an Axis partner, later said Zycazin, like other over-the-counter antiseptic liquids, treats the itchiness and other side effects of standard mosquito bites. But he said the company’s confidential research in Colombia suggests the product also could lessen the severity of a Zika infection.

Santamaria said he had no financial interest in Axis HealthCare and only came to Wynwood to help the hard-hit area, home to Miami’s first Zika transmission zone. “This was an act of love,” he said.

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