Environment

Miami-Dade ramps up battle against Zika-spreading mosquito

Zika worries in Wynwood

Locally transmitted cases of the Zika virus in the Wynwood/Midtown/Design District emerge, the first locally acquired cases in the nation. People in the Wynwood area on Monday, August 1, 2016, talk about their Zika concerns.
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Locally transmitted cases of the Zika virus in the Wynwood/Midtown/Design District emerge, the first locally acquired cases in the nation. People in the Wynwood area on Monday, August 1, 2016, talk about their Zika concerns.

With a dozen local cases of Zika now confirmed in a single neighborhood, Miami-Dade County officials are ramping up efforts to combat the urban mosquito blamed for spreading the virus.

A team of 12 inspectors will be increased to 32 on Tuesday. They will patrol for breeding hotspots and hit those areas with back-pack foggers or other mosquito-killing treatments. More personnel will be added if needed, said public works and waste management spokeswoman Gayle Love.

Outreach efforts that began in February after Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency are also being increased. Over the weekend, the school district used its robo-call system to warn the families of some 355,000 school children to be on guard. The calls follow increased outreach that began with the start of the mosquito season in June, when the county sent mailers to every county resident about “a drain and cover” program which Love said is considered “the first line of defense” against mosquitoes.

But some experts question whether the added forces are too little, too late.

[Miami-Dade County is]underfunded and undermanned.

Former Florida Keys Mosquito Control District chief Ed Fussell

"They are underfunded and undermanned," said Ed Fussell, former chief of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, which spent $10 million last year to kill the insects — more than five times Miami-Dade’s typical annual mosquito control budget.

The mosquitoes blamed for carrying the Zika virus and other diseases, the Aedes aegypti, is evolved to follow humans and has become adept at hiding in their neighborhoods, feeding on their blood. That means aerial spraying used to control marsh mosquitoes, which don’t carry diseases, is usually ineffective. Truck spraying also typically fails to reach the hiding places of the females, which after a bite retreat to a wet dark place to lay eggs that take about a week to hatch. That leaves the simplest, but most time-consuming and labor intensive effort: boots on the ground.

“Eliminating their breeding source is the best method of attack,” Love said. “Spraying will work, but it has to be spraying at the source.”

But in Miami-Dade County, that can mean a lot of ground to cover with a budget of under $2 million. Year by year complaint calls can also vary wildly depending on the severity of the mosquito season in Miami-Dade, making planning difficult. Last year, the county received just over 4,400 complaints for the year. On Friday alone, they received 224 alone, Love said.

Our day-to-day is what most people do in an emergency.

Florida Keys Mosquito Control District public education officer Beth Ranson

In the Florida Keys, mosquito control costs are covered under a special taxing district, supporting a year-round battle against the biting bugs.

"Our day-to-day is what most people do in an emergency," said Beth Ranson, a spokeswoman for the Keys district which is considering a controversial proposal to release genetically modified mosquitoes to combat a host of mosquito-borne diseases.

With eggs able to hatch in any standing water — the inside of a bromeliad, the rim of a flower pot or an upturned trashcan lid — Ranson said the agency responds to requests immediately and checks every property in the island chain every four to six weeks.

"You can't stress enough the educational aspect," said "They breed in clean standing water that is in and around your home, any standing water, it doesn't take much, like a bottlecap full, to breed 300 mosquitoes."

With the Miami’s Zika cases concentrated in Wynwood, an urban neighborhood tightly packed with aging homes bordering a busy commercial district, the county faces a potential emergency, Fussell said.

Matt DeGennero, a Florida International University professor and mosquito genetics expert, says that dumping water and using bug spray are the two best ways to fight Zika.

DEET should be the new perfume in Wynwood.

Matt DeGennaro, a Florida International University professor and mosquito genetics expert

"DEET should be the new perfume in Wynwood," DeGennero said, referring to the effective repellant that at high concentrations have been blamed for rashes and other side-effects.

Still, DeGennero warned much remains unknown about the recent Zika outbreak, and that local and state authorities should spend their time and resources on figuring out how the initial cases developed.

"We need to test people in Wynwood and figure out what the rate of infection really is," he said. "And people need to participate in such studies. Only one out of five people with Zika show symptoms so there could be a lot more people than the 14 people in the press release."

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