After nearly 8 months of bickering and finger-pointing, the United States Congress on September 28th allocated $1.1 billion to fight the spread and effects of the Zika virus. President Barack Obama requested $1.9 billion back in February to fight Zika. The deal is part of a broader agreement to continue to fund the Federal government, and ends a partisan fight unusual in a public health emergency. Disagreement centered on non-related issues such as linking the bill to Planned Parenthood, whether monies were “emergency spending,” and the Flint, Michigan, water crisis.
More than 23,000 people in the mainland United States and Puerto Rico have been infected with the Zika virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including over 2,000 pregnant women, especially troubling due to birth defects caused by the virus. The CDC estimates that 20 babies in the mainland United States and 1 in Puerto Rico were born with Zika-related birth defects. As of September 26th, the Florida Department of Health reports 894 cases, with 105 from local transmissions and 90 being pregnant women. Lee County has 12 Zika cases, all travel-related.
Zika can cause microcephaly – a condition where babies are born with undersized and underdeveloped heads and brains – in as many as 13% of children born to women infected while pregnant. There are links to several other birth defects, such as joint deformities in the arms and legs called arthrogryposis, hearing and sight loss, poor fetal growth, and Guillain-Barre Syndrome in adults.
Florida Fought Alone
While awaiting federal funding, the State of Florida spent $36.2 million to battle Zika through mosquito control surveillance, testing, door-to-door outreach and prevention kits, while allocating an additional $25 million for a vaccine.
Florida Governor Rick Scott and the CDC on September 19th lifted the travel ban to the small Wynwood neighborhood in Downtown Miami that it instituted August 1st, saying that aggressive mosquito control efforts were successful. Officials warn, however, that the Miami Beach travel restriction zone is now triple its original size. On July 29th, Florida health officials announced that local mosquitos infected four individuals in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, the first known cases transmitted in the continental United States. Florida experienced its first Zika diagnosis in January, after people returning home from overseas-infected countries experienced outbreaks.
While new to the US, experts first identified the virus in 1947 in Uganda’s Zika Forest. There were just 15 cases worldwide until 2007, until a significant outbreak occurred in Southeast Asia. The World Health Organization estimates that over 3 million people in the Americas will contract Zika throughout 2016.
Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitos spread the illness. Incubation is 2 to 10 days, and only 20% who contract it will display symptoms, with few hospitalizations. Once you get Zika you are immune. The most common ailments are a low-grade fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes. There currently is no vaccine or cure, just like the flu, but the illness usually goes away on its own in a week to 10 days. People in Zika-threatened areas should wear long pants and long-sleeve shirts and use insect repellent with DEET. Zika can be transmitted by sex, so the CDC recommends using condoms. If you are pregnant, do not travel to Zika-infected areas; if you must, do everything possible to protect yourself from mosquito bites.
A Typical Season
Michael Mills, director of Fort Myers Beach Mosquito Control, said his office monitors hot spots like artificial containers, tires, birdbaths, and drains daily, to empty these of water. The best way citizens can assist is to dump any water containers in their yards or properties. “Mosquito larvae cannot live without water, so if you dump it the air kills the larvae before they become adults. On Fort Myers Beach, we win the ground war before the war breaks out.”
He states that Fort Myers Beach Mosquito Control will not receive any Federal funding because “we do not need the assistance. Fort Myers Beach is a small island so we treat every situation as it occurs, to keep ahead of any potential outbreak. Despite all the Zika headlines, this is a pretty typical season for us. Not only do most of our homes and businesses have air conditioning and screens, but our hotel and condominium maintenance managers do a great job in keeping their properties clean and dry. They make our jobs easier and we appreciate their diligence.”
Michael says the mosquito peak was September 15, the official end of the rainy season, but “of course we have downpours until the end of October, and since we live in Southwest Florida mosquitos never really leave, though the situation is easier during the dry season.”
Bud Nocera, president of the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce, calls Zika a non-issue. “Our office has not heard from anyone about it, although a couple of hotel operators months ago reported a few cancellations when the Zika news was at its apex. It clearly ranks third under matters of concern, behind water quality and road construction.”
Another reason Nocera believes that Zika is not a major problem for our community is due to the demographic of the typical Fort Myers Beach tourist and seasonal visitor. “The age we appeal to skews to the older and senior ranges, unlike those who may be in the middle of their child-bearing years.”
For further information see the CDC Zika webpage at www.cdc.gov/zika or the Florida Department of Health at bit.ly/zikaFL Call the Florida Statewide Zika Virus Information Hotline at 855-622-6235, the Florida Department of Health in Lee County at 239-332-9580, or Fort Myers Beach Mosquito Control at 239-463-6350. Even with summer officially over, continue to practice Zika precautions throughout the year.