Florida officials discuss use of Zika funds amid heightened concerns

MIAMI (WSVN) - Florida officials are ready to take the next step in their battle against the Zika virus, and it could not come at a better time.

At a news conference, Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., met with community leaders and local professors to address concerns and discuss measures to eradicate the virus in the newest hot zone in the City of Miami, which was announced last Thursday.

The Sunshine State’s cut of the federal Zika funding bill approved by Congress comes to about $2.6 million. Some of that cash will go to mosquito spraying, among other things. Speaking with 7News on the phone, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COO Sherri Berger said, “Studies to learn the impact of Zika on pregnancy and what happens to infants born, to invest in new technology to better detect and understand Zika.”

Wilson said the new funding comes not a moment too soon. “It appears as if District 24 has become a living laboratory for Zika,” she said.

Tuesday’s news conference comes on the same day officials revealed that a pool of mosquitoes retrieved in Miami Beach earlier this month tested positive for Zika.

According to Miami-Dade Mosquito Control, the sample was taken from a trap located along the 1200 block of Drexel Avenue, Oct. 5.

Crews have notified the residents where the trap was located, as well as those living in the 1/8-mile area surrounding the property.

The new Zika zone includes Little River, Little Haiti and Liberty City. The boundaries are between Northwest 10th Avenue and Miami Avenue and between Northwest 79th Street and 63rd Street. “As of today, we have 149 cases of Zika in this county,” said Reynald Jean with the Florida Department of Health.

Wilson, along with other elected officials, delivered essential items, such as mosquito repellent, to businesses and local residents in the new hot zone.

Dr. Aileen Marty, professor of infectious diseases at Florida International University, reminded residents there is still a lot about Zika that is not known. “Beyond the risk to the little babies, we also know that this virus does cause harm to stem cells in brains of children and adults,” she said. “That’s why we’re not advocating what some people have suggested, which is, ‘OK, get Zika now and have a healthy baby later. No, because we don’t know what the risks might be to your brain.”

Here’s what health officials recommend:

  • use mosquito repellent
  • wear long sleeve shirts
  • empty standing water

“The ultimate solution for this particular virus will be the production of a safe and effective vaccine,” said Marty. “However, that’s not in the very near future.”

In Broward County, the Mosquito Control Section showed off their new tool in their efforts to combat mosquito larvae: truck larviciding.

At a news conference held at North Perry Airport in Pembroke Pines, Tuesday morning, crews demonstrated how the VectoBac WG larvicide is mixed and loaded onto a truck. Reporters then followed the truck to a location to watch the larvicide being applied.

While there are no active non-travel related cases in Broward, crews have increased spraying with the active ingredient BTI. “It’s a naturally occurring, biodegradable material that’s been used in the Keys, over environmentally sensitive land,” Anh Ton with Broward Mosquito Control. “It’s safe for potable water, even. In fact, the World Health Organization approved it for use in drinking water in other places.”

BTI is mixed with water and sprayed from a truck that launches it high enough for the wind to carry it into neighborhoods. Pompano Beach and Plantation are scheduled first, and crews will spray sporadically until the virus is gone.

So far, a total of 155 locally transmitted cases of the Zika virus have been discovered in Florida, according to the CDC.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced the second Zika zone, a 1.5 square mile area in Miami Beach, on Aug. 19. That area was eventually expanded to approximately 4.5 square miles.

The first U.S. hot zone for locally transmitted cases of Zika was identified in the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami, in late July. It has since been declared free of the virus.

To date, inspectors have completed more than 19,000 inspections on Miami Beach and more than 1,000 in Little River.

The mosquito-borne illness is especially dangerous for pregnant women and has been linked to serious birth defects. The CDC has issued a travel advisory for pregnant women to avoid the Zika hot Zones in Miami-Dade County.

If a mosquito carrying Zika does bite, it can take up to two weeks to cause symptoms like:

  • fever
  • headache
  • skin rash
  • joint pain
  • conjunctivitis, which causes red, irritated eyes

The State Surgeon General has activated a 24-hour Zika hotline in Florida to answer questions and concerns. That number is 855-622-6735.

Pregnant women can receive a free test at the Health District Center, located at 1350 N.W. 14th St. in Miami. For more information, call (305) 324-2400.

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