Zika outbreak spreads to heart of Miami Beach’s tourist zone

South_Beach_20080315The Zika outbreak in Miami-Dade County, Fla., has spread, with federal and state officials confirming infections by mosquitoes now in South Beach, the tourist-popular heart of Miami Beach. Pregnant women have been advised to stay out of the 20-block resort area, and, more generally, to consider avoiding unnecessary travel to all of Miami-Dade.

This isn’t the high tourism season in South Florida, which can be even more sultry than Washington, D.C., at this time of year. But officials clearly are uneasy about the effect of Zika warnings on one of the major industries for Miami Beach, a city of 92,000 where seven million visitors stayed in local hotels.

The latest health alerts were issued after officials confirmed five cases of locally acquired infections of the tropical disease that, for many, can be mild and flu-like, with fever, chills, headaches, and muscle soreness.  It also has been linked to birth deformities in children whose mothers were exposed during their pregnancy, with hard-hit Brazil recording 1,800 cases of youngsters afflicted with microcephaly tied to their moms’ Zika infection.

Zika, which has spread to more than 70 nations now, was previously detected and determined to be spreading by local mosquitoes in Wynwood, a hip neighborhood just north of downtown Miami. Officials had issued warnings about infections in roughly a one-mile-square there, and launched a pest control and eradication campaign.

Miami Beach poses greater complications, as its many high-rise buildings and ocean breezes make it difficult to aerial spray insecticides. While Wynwood has many trendy art galleries and restaurants, the new Zika-affected area in Miami Beach includes some of South Florida’s hottest hotels, bars, restaurants, the city’s bustling convention center, and, of course, packed beaches.

There, it is unlikely that the throngs of relaxed visitors are likely to heed health advisories to cover up as much as possible to avoid bites from the Zika-transmitting ades Egypti mosquito, which is not only difficult to eradicate but also feasts during daylight hours when other skeeters typically don’t.

Although the South Florida outbreaks have been small, affecting relatively few people and contained in confined areas, they have added to growing concern about Zika infections in the United States, where the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tracked 2,260 cases (not including 8,035 others in U.S. territories) as of Aug. 17. These infections, far and away, were contracted outside the country. U.S. health officials also are tracking more than 500 pregnancies nationwide where moms may have been infected with Zika.

As concern rises about Zika’s spread in the United States, the partisan bickering over disease-fighting funding continues. As I have written, Congress recessed without acting on the Obama Administration’s request for almost $2 billion to battle Zika and other scourges. Democrats and Republicans got themselves in a logjam over whether the Zika funding should include family planning assistance, notably for Planned Parenthood.

The Obama Administration has said it is juggling existing health dollars to boost the Zika battle, especially with mosquito-fighting and emergency response funds for South Florida. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, writing from his vacation recess, has ripped the Administration, arguing it should divert cash it intends to spend on increasing  enrollment in the Affordable Care Act to battling Zika.

Photo credit: Marc Averette / Creative Commons
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