With Olympics ready to go, Miami, not Rio, is epicenter of Zika buzz

aedes-aegyptiThe 2016 Summer Olympic Games are about to launch, and who would have guessed that Miami, and not Rio, is the city that officials are buzzing about because of the tropical malady Zika?

State and local officials say they are stepping up the battle against the mosquito-borne scourge after confirming four locally contracted Zika cases in a neighborhood not far from downtown Miami; none of the cases can be tracked to those who might have traveled outside the United States or engaged in unprotected sex with a Zika carrier−the means by which the infection has occurred, thus far, in the American mainland.

The confirmation of a localized spread of Zika has prompted a major push for pest detection and control in the Wynwood area, a bohemian neighborhood with many restaurants and art galleries.

It’s unclear how mosquitoes in this area, blamed for the Zika cases, became infected; the bugs typically carry and transmit tropical viruses like Zika after first feasting on infected humans. The New York Times pointed out that the most common carrier of Zika, infected aedes egypti mosquitos, may bite on humans with vigor but they don’t typically travel far and keep to a small range.

Zika often is  a relatively mild tropical sickness that causes many of its victims to suffer fever, aches, skin rashes, and muscle aches for a short period.

Brazil’s struggles

But the World Health Organization, in its latest, July 28 situation update, reported that 67 nations now have reported Zika infections of varying degrees of severity. Brazil has been especially hard hit, even as it struggles with a political and economic crisis and an ambitious effort to stage the Summer Games. Brazilian officials have recorded and confirmed hundreds of cases in which pregnant moms infected with Zika have given birth to children with serious developmental defects, most notably shrunken heads or microcephaly.

Although there were great fears that the huge numbers of fans and athletes who will flock to the Summer Games would contract Zika or assist its global spread, the epidemic appears to be waning in Brazil. Public health officials had assured athletes that if they took necessary precautions they could compete in Rio without excessive concern; public health experts who disagreed with that view failed in their call for a postponement or cancellation of the Rio sports spectacle.

Zika concern still runs sufficiently high that organizers of the Games say they will flood the athlete-participants with condoms to ensure that they do not spread the disease through unprotected sex. If athletes need hospital care due to Zika or other health concerns, reports are not cheery about poor conditions they may encounter in Rio facilities hard-hit by the nation’s crises.

A mess in Miami, D.C.?

Meantime, the Miami outbreak spotlighted the political mess left by Congress with its recent recess. As I have written, a battle broke out among congressional partisans as to whether President Obama’s request for $1.9 billion to combat Zika should include funding for birth control and Planned Parenthood. The feuding sides could not agree, and Congress left for its summer recess taking no action on plans and funding to battle the disease.

The administration and Florida’s governor both say they have found money to help Miami boost its comparatively paltry vector control programs, and to undertake other necessary steps to battle Zika. But there already are concerns about the U.S.-state coordination, with reports that Florida has yet to invite in some of Uncle Sam’s top experts to assist.

Laurie Garrett, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of the ebola epidemic in Zaire, has offered a sharp criticism of the political dithering in Washington as the Zika epidemic has spread across the Americas. She says that the rising number of cases in Latin America, especially Brazil, then the Caribbean and Puerto Rico (where there are reports of the Zika fight being in a shambles), should have clued U.S. officials about potential big problems. She notes that conditions are ripe for the tropical disease to spread rapidly across the United States, flaring in Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Mississipi, the Carolinas−and Washington, D.C.

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