Fabiola Santiago

Zika virus emergency in Miami shouldn’t be a surprise

Carlos Varas, a Miami-Dade County mosquito inspector, uses a Golden Eagle machine to spray around the home of Calmero Diaz, 63, on NW 31st St, in the Wynwood area of Miami on Tuesday afternoon.
Carlos Varas, a Miami-Dade County mosquito inspector, uses a Golden Eagle machine to spray around the home of Calmero Diaz, 63, on NW 31st St, in the Wynwood area of Miami on Tuesday afternoon. emichot@miamiherald.com

This time, I made a bigger fuss about wanting to know the baby’s sex to quiet worries over the growing tally of Zika cases in Florida. But truth is, all I wanted to see in my pregnant daughter’s sonogram was a perfectly shaped little head.

Pregnancy in the time of Zika is different. A baby’s sonogram takes on more urgent meaning: More than ever, health is all that matters. Joy is tempered by angst about the timing of a virus spreading fast through the simple bite of the Aedes aegypti mosquito. The stakes are much, much higher when a virus that causes brain and neurological damage in the unborn is no longer a faraway foreign concern, but is right here, among us.

No, it’s not business as usual for pregnant women. Everything is not okay.

The number of Zika cases has spiked from four in early July to 12 people now infected with the virus spread by local mosquitoes in Miami’s popular art and dining hubs of Wynwood, Midtown, and the Design District. As of Tuesday, there was another locally acquired case in Miami outside the Wynwood area.

But at least now, county, state leaders, federal agencies — and voters, the only ones who can move any needle around here on any topic — are waking up from their summer malaise and demanding multi-level action to control the spread of Zika. Thirteen cases of locally contracted infections in Miami — that seems to be the magic number compelling people to pay attention now to what has been for months a serious health threat in all of Florida.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not only sent a crisis team to Miami, but issued an unprecedented travel advisory for pregnant women. And everyone who lives and works in the area is being urged to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites and practice safe sex.

“Florida Zika virus emergency” is a trending topic. It was bound to happen and only fools didn’t anticipate it. They should have acted earlier to contain the threat. Zika has not only been an epidemic in Latin America. In another area with close ties to Florida — Puerto Rico — cases are skyrocketing. The upcoming Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro are only going to increase traffic between us.

I’ve been watching the numbers spike in daily updates from the Florida Department of Health and this one is the most terrifying of all: 55 pregnant women infected with the Zika virus are being monitored. This is not a new phenomena; it’s been going on since January.

But despite the months-long uptick of cases and President Barack Obama’s request for $1.8 billion to fight Zika back in February, members of Congress went on summer break without appropriating any money to combat the virus.

Shame on them — and on county and state officials, who are only now stepping up efforts to fight Zika. It would have been taken more seriously if enough elected officials had pregnant daughters living in a vulnerable state like Florida, which now has more than 350 locally contracted and travel-related cases.

This is not a partisan issue, but a real threat to life.

It gives me chills to think that the only reason my unknowing pregnant daughter wasn’t smack in the middle of this epidemic in Wynwood last week was because, by a fluke, she didn’t meet a friend there. I’m not the kind of person who leaves life-and-death issues to chance.

Spread the word: Empty all standing water, no matter how small the puddle. And, parents-to-be, do take the Zika threat seriously, and not just at night. The mosquito is most likely to strike during the day, according to the experts.

The Zika virus is no longer someone else’s Third World disease. It’s ours, too.

As for the newest member of our family, I’m happy to say in this landmark year for women – it’s a girl. A healthy one, and that’s all that matters.

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