New Zika Zone Identified in Miami

At least five people have contracted Zika virus from mosquitoes in Miami's Little River neighborhood, Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced Thursday, identifying a one-square-mile zone where the disease is spreading.

By Daniel Chang and David Smiley

At least five people have contracted Zika virus from mosquitoes in Miami's Little River neighborhood, Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced Thursday, identifying a one-square-mile zone where the disease is spreading.

Scott's office identified the area after the Florida Department of Health confirmed that two women and three men had contracted Zika there. Three of the people live in the square-mile area, and two either work there or recently visited, according to the governor's announcement.

The new zone _ between Northwest 79th and 63rd Streets from Northwest 10th Avenue to North Miami Avenue _ is the second in Miami-Dade where mosquitoes are known to be spreading Zika. The other is a 4.5-square-mile area of Miami Beach covering most of South Beach and Middle Beach.

Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado said Scott called him Thursday afternoon, shortly before announcing the news, to tell Regalado that a new Zika zone had been identified in his city less than a month after state and federal health officials had cleared the Wynwood area of active transmission Sept. 19.

Regalado said he's concerned about the people who live in the new Zika zone, which unlike Wynwood is primarily residential. The area includes St. Mary's Cathedral and Athalie Range Park, and two high schools _ Miami Northwestern and Miami Edison _ border the zone.

Miami Commission Chairman Keon Hardemon, whose district includes Wynwood and the new zone in Little River, said he was "disappointed" by the announcement. He said it confirmed his office's recent warnings to area residents that they should not let down their guard on Zika just because they live outside the "box," a reference to the one-square-mile zone previously identified in Wynwood.

Hardemon said both the state and federal government need to pour more money and resources into fighting the spread of the virus in Miami.

"We were all blindsided by this bit of information," he said, "and that's why it was always important for us to protect ourselves from the Zika virus the best we can without considering it's just within one area."

For Hardemon, the Zika threat has been personal.

His wife gave birth to a healthy baby girl Oct. 6, he said. But the couple is still waiting for the state health department to deliver the results of Zika tests they both took shortly after learning July 29 that mosquitoes were spreading the virus in Wynwood near their home.

"We haven't received our results back yet from the state of Florida regarding Zika. It's almost been two months," he said, noting that researchers are learning more every day about the virus's effects on people. "It's a scary thing, and I think everyone in the city of Miami should be concerned."

Hardemon said the city recently contacted an organization that promotes nontoxic methods for knocking down mosquito populations, in order to address public concerns about naled, an insecticide that was sprayed by airplanes over Wynwood and Miami Beach to combat Zika.

Though Hardemon said he doesn't oppose the use of naled in his district, he added that the city wants to find an effective mosquito control method that will have broad support in the community.

In identifying the new Zika zone in Little River on Thursday, Scott said he supports a similar approach in Little River as the one taken in Wynwood, which included aerial spraying of two insecticides _ naled to kill adult mosquitoes, and a larvacide to eradicate their eggs.

Scott also asked the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to continue working with Miami-Dade mosquito control to contain the virus's spread.

"We have seen that aggressive mosquito control efforts have worked in areas like Wynwood," Scott said in the statement, "and we hope the county also aggressively sprays in this area so we can limit the spread of this virus and protect pregnant women and their growing babies."

Zika poses the greatest threat to pregnant women and their developing fetuses because the virus can cause microcephaly and other severe brain defects. Zika also can lead to eye, ear and neurological problems, including Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Florida's health department reported two new mosquito-borne Zika infections on Thursday, including one case in the Little River area. The other local infection occurred in a Broward resident, and health officials are investigating to determine where exposure occurred.

State officials have confirmed 1,021 Zika infections this year, with 174 mosquito-borne cases and 842 travel-related cases, including 106 pregnant women. An additional five cases are labeled "undetermined" after health department investigators failed to identify the area of exposure.

Miami-Dade has the most Zika infections of any county, with 237 travel-related cases and 163 mosquito-borne cases this year. Of Miami-Dade's local infections, 65 are linked to exposure in Miami Beach and 36 to mosquitoes in Wynwood.

The five cases of Zika in the Little River zone includes four that had previously under investigation and a fifth whose infection was confirmed to be from the same area Thursday _ a combination that meets federal standards for identifying a sector of active transmission.

According to CDC guidance, "a starting point" for health officials to identify an area of local transmission is two or more infections (not related to travel or sex) among people who do not share the same household, occurring within a one-mile diameter in two or more weeks.

The remaining 57 mosquito-borne Zika cases reported in Miami-Dade this year are either under investigation to determine the area of exposure, or they have been closed out after the state failed to find evidence that more than one person was infected.

Epidemiologists currently are conducting 15 investigations into Zika infections, including 11 in Miami-Dade, two in Palm Beach and two cases where the area of exposure is unknown because the affected persons had traveled both to Miami Beach and to a country overseas where the virus is widespread.

State officials have refused to disclose all locations in Miami-Dade where epidemiologists are investigating mosquito-borne Zika infections. However, county officials have reported finding mosquitoes that tested positive for Zika at seven different locations in Miami Beach _ after a Miami Herald lawsuit led to public disclosure of the sites.

Florida has yet to use $8.4 million in grants that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has awarded the state since June, specifically to help pay for mosquito control, laboratories and other resources to combat Zika.

As Zika has spread in Miami-Dade, Scott repeatedly has called on the CDC to send financial help and other resources to help Florida combat the virus _ though his administration has yet to use $8.4 million in grants that the federal agency has awarded the state since June specifically to pay for mosquito control, laboratory capacity and other resources.

Scott has allocated more than $61 million in state funds for Zika response and research. But now that Congress has passed a bill to fund Zika response, Scott renewed his calls Thursday for the federal government to send resources to Florida.

"We don't need bureaucratic timelines," Scott said in a statement. "We need funding now."

(c)2016 Miami Herald

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.