Earlier this month, federal health authorities urged pregnant women not to visit Wynwood in light of the situation unfolding there. This was the first time officials had warned against travel to a part of the continental United States because of the outbreak of an infectious disease. They made the decision after “aggressive” efforts to combat Zika’s mosquito-borne spread proved insufficient. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called it “a truly scary situation.”
If Zika is confirmed in Miami Beach, CDC officials probably will issue an updated travel advisory that includes the newly affected area. It was unclear Thursday where the boundaries of such a warning might be.
In a statement, Gov. Rick Scott (R) insisted the outbreak remained confined to Wynwood. “We still believe local transmissions are only occurring in an area that is less than one square mile,” he said.
“As we continue to aggressively assess and test people for Zika, we will make every resource available to fight this virus,” Scott said.
The Herald reported that early Thursday, Miami Beach public works officials and code compliance officers were dispatched to neighborhoods to inspect for mosquito breeding sites. A statement from Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales said officials there were in “constant communication” with the state health department on mosquito control efforts.
“Our strategy has been and will continue to be focusing on the elimination of potential breeding sites and educating our residents and businesses on what they need to do,” Morales said. “We are also working with [Miami-Dade County] and they are also inspecting and as needed mitigating through techniques like cleanups, larvicides and fogging.”
The CDC reiterated Thursday evening that it is working with Florida officials to track down local cases but that those officials are taking the lead on investigations. “CDC will continue to provide updates as information becomes available,” the agency noted in a statement.
The Zika virus, which has now spread to 70 countries, has been linked to a rare and severe birth defect known as microcephaly, which is characterized by an abnormally small head and often underdeveloped brain, as well as an array of other fetal abnormalities.
In rare cases, the virus also has been linked in adults to Guillain-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that can cause paralysis and even death.
Should officials confirm local Zika transmissions in Miami Beach, it could deal another blow to Miami’s vibrant tourism industry.
Scott seemed keenly aware of that Thursday, saying he had directed state officials to work closely with hotels, attractions and restaurants to help them with Zika prevention and education efforts. He also said affected businesses in the county would be offered mosquito spraying at no cost.
“Tourism is a driving force of Florida’s economy, and this industry has the full support of our state in the fight against the Zika virus,” said Scott, who has pushed Congress to approve funding to states most at risk from the virus. “Additionally, our Department of Economic Opportunity is working with businesses that may have been impacted to ensure they have everything they need to remain successful. We will continue to work closely with our businesses and the tourism community to ensure their needs are met.”
As of Wednesday, the Florida Department of Health reported 461 travel-related cases of Zika and 33 locally acquired cases. Sixty-three of the state’s Zika cases involve pregnant women.