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2 Zika awareness billboards showing condom removed amid controversy

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. (WSVN) - Two billboards designed to bring awareness to the spread of the Zika virus have been removed in Broward County after their depiction of an unrolled condom stirred controversy.

A spokesperson with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation said pressure from the Fort Lauderdale Mayor’s office and the Tourism Board caused their signage company to pull the ad from their locations along Interstate 95 and Interstate 595, near Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Tuesday. “They felt, I guess, that they could impact tourism,” said Michael Kahane. “I find it completely disgusting.”

Kahane said the AHF billboards, which were put up last week, were delivering an urgent prevention message. “It’s outrageous. This is a public health issue,” he said. “People need to have as much information as they can possibly have about it.”

Others, however, said the ad has a sexual connotation. “It’s like a phallic symbol,” said a passer-by.

The Mayor’s office told 7News they had no part in bringing down the billboards.

However, tourism officials are telling a different story. The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau said a member of their advisory board found the billboard inaccurate because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said condoms can only reduce the risk of Zika transmission.

Moreover, they said they don’t have the power to bring down the billboard, adding it was the signage company’s call. In a statement issued on Wednesday, the bureau’s president and CEO, Stacy Ritter, said, “We relayed that concern to the billboard company. To my knowledge, that is the extent of our involvement.”

Meanwhile, one remaining billboard showing the condom still stands off Palm Drive, down South, in Florida City.

Kahane said AHF will do everything it can to spread the word that mosquito bites are not the only way people can contract the mosquito-borne virus. “People need to understand that Zika can be sexually transmitted,” he said.

However, some local residents said they would prefer a different approach at conveying that message. “I think it’s a little bit questionable,” said Teddy Dole. “It’s in an area where there are not too many kids, but it still could be without the condom.”

“I don’t think it’s inappropriate, but I don’t think it looks good, either,” said Harry Chaskalson.

“They could probably use a different illustration of how to prevent [Zika],” said Annie Chaskalson.

While the foundation continues its push to educate the public, Kahane said it’s understandable why a billboard with a giant condom could cause some discomfort in the community.

When asked whether he concedes people could be offended by the image, Kahane replied, “I do, but I think public health is more important than someone’s sensibilities being offended.”

Three new non-travel-related Zika cases were announced on Wednesday, bringing the total in Florida to 33. Health officials said two of the three new infections are located outside the affected area in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood.