South Beach halts Zika’s spread, but risks re­main

‘We’re ‘Z-free’ - I won’t say the whole word’

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

Florida de­clared its cri­sis with lo­cal trans­mis­sion of Zika over for the sea­son Fri­day in a welcome an­nounce­ment ahead of peak tourism months, but health au­thor­i­ties warned that travelers would con­tinue bring­ing the dis­ease into the state. Start­ing in late July, state health of­fi­cials had iden­ti­fied four zones in the Mi­ami area where the virus was spread­ing through lo­cal mos­qui­toes - the first such trans­mis­sions in the con­ti­nen­tal US - and launched ag­gres­sive ef­forts to con­trol the in­sects.

One by one, the zones were deemed clear of con­tin­u­ing in­fec­tions, and Gov Rick Scott an­nounced Fri­day that the last one - a 1.5square-mile area in touristy South Beach - also was cleared. The be­gin­ning of South Florida’s cool win­ter sea­son also helped sup­press the dis­ease-car­ry­ing mos­qui­toes, Florida Health Sec­re­tary Dr. Ce­leste Philip said. Although the mos­quito threat has abated, Philip noted that travelers would con­tinue to ar­rive from else­where with the virus and that it could still be spread be­tween peo­ple through sex­ual con­tact.

“Hope­fully, by next sum­mer, we’ll have a fed­eral gov­ern­ment that has a vac­cine,” said Scott, a Repub­li­can who has re­peat­edly crit­i­cized fed­eral of­fi­cials for an im­passe over Zika fund­ing. Mi­ami-Dade County Mayor Car­los Gimenez said in a state­ment that he met this week with the di­rec­tor of the US Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion to plan for po­ten­tial Zika out­breaks next year. Lo­cal of­fi­cials also said res­i­dents should con­tinue to do their part to con­trol mos­qui­toes year-round in South Florida.

About 250 peo­ple have con­tracted Zika in Florida, and over 980 more Zika in­fec­tions in the state have been linked to travel, ac­cord­ing to state health of­fi­cials. Zika causes mild flu-like symp­toms for most peo­ple, but it can cause se­vere brain-re­lated birth de­fects when preg­nant women be­come in­fected. The CDC lifted a warn­ing for preg­nant women to stay out of the South Beach zone al­to­gether, but the agency still urges them to con­sider post­pon­ing nonessen­tial travel to Mi­ami-Dade County. Zika test­ing is rec­om­mended for all preg­nant women and their part­ners if they’ve trav­eled to Mi­ami-Dade County since Aug 1.

There have been 187 preg­nant women in Florida who tested pos­i­tive for the Zika virus, in­clud­ing women in­fected else­where, state health of­fi­cials said Fri­day. Ninety-five of those women have sought treat­ment through the Univer­sity of Mi­ami Health Sys­tem and Jack­son Memo­rial Hos­pi­tal, ac­cord­ing to Dr. Chris­tine Curry, an ob­ste­tri­cian-gy­ne­col­o­gist and the codi­rec­tor of the univer­sity’s Zika Re­sponse Team. For her pa­tients, clear­ing the South Beach zone “doesn’t mean they get off the hook of wear­ing re­pel­lent and long cloth­ing and be­ing cau­tious over­all,” Curry said.

Re­searchers say some birth de­fects caused by Zika in­fec­tions may not be ap­par­ent at birth but de­velop months later. Florida’s tourism in­dus­try ini­tially pan­icked when mos­qui­toes be­gan spread­ing the dis­ease in Mi­ami’s arty Wyn­wood dis­trict in July, but the state nonethe­less saw record num­ber of vis­i­tors so far this year, in­clud­ing to last week’s art fairs in South Beach and Wyn­wood. Still, tourism of­fi­cials at Scott’s news con­fer­ence were ju­bi­lant. “We’re ‘Z-free’ - I won’t say the whole word,” Bill Tal­bert, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Greater Mi­ami Con­ven­tion & Vis­i­tors Bu­reau, said at the rooftop news con­fer­ence at a ho­tel on South Beach’s famed Ocean Drive.—AP

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