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Miami Targets Zika-Carrying Mosquitoes With Aerial Spraying, Inspections


Authorities are working to stop the spread of Zika in Miami. They're spraying chemicals to kill mosquitoes. They're conducting door-to-door inspections. And they want to protect more than public health. They also worry about tourism and the economy. NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: It's been five days now since health officials confirmed that a one-square-mile area in Miami is the site of the first cases of local Zika transmission on the U.S. mainland. It includes Wynwood, an area that some might call a hipster neighborhood, known for its outdoor art installations galleries, bars and cafes. But so far, the announcement that Zika is in the neighborhood has had little impact on visitors.

Daniel Canellas was strolling through the neighborhood with a friend yesterday. He's from Brazil, where Zika has been a problem now for more than a year. He heard Zika was in the Wynwood neighborhood, and he heard the warnings to wear repellent.

Are you wearing repellent today?


ALLEN: Do you wear repellent in Brazil?

CANELLAS: No, I don't use it. And I never use repellent.

ALLEN: So you're not too concerned, it doesn't seem like.

CANELLAS: No, not at all.

ALLEN: People who work here, especially young women, are more concerned. Zika has been linked to birth defects, including microcephaly. And the CDC has recommended that pregnant women avoid the area and that other women who go there delay getting pregnant for at least eight weeks. Wilfredo Fernandez operates The Lab Miami, a co-working office space in Wynwood.

WILFREDO FERNANDEZ: You know, I know of some individuals that are pregnant and actually have to stay away from the space. So it's pretty interesting to see, you know, people that you know affected by it. Thankfully, they can work from home.

ALLEN: There was one new case of local Zika transmission yesterday. A case was found outside of the Wynwood area. Workers are now going door to door in that as yet unidentified neighborhood talking to people, doing testing and mosquito control.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said beginning today, following advice from the state and the CDC, the county will begin using aerial spraying to combat the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that carry Zika. The spraying, once a week over the next four weeks, will include both larvicide and a pesticide that targets adult mosquitoes even though, Gimenez acknowledges, aerial spraying isn't very effective.

CARLOS GIMENEZ: If the experts are telling me that, you know, this is what we really need to do, then we're going to follow the advice of the experts and do everything in our power to, you know, eliminate this problem that we have in that small area of Wynwood.

ALLEN: In Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory with a much more severe problem, a Zika epidemic with thousands of cases, the government has resisted CDC advice that it conduct aerial spraying. Matthew DeGennaro, an expert on mosquito genetics at Florida International University, says Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in the Florida Keys, just 150 miles south of Miami, have already developed a resistance to insecticide sprays. And that might be the case here.

MATTHEW DEGENNARO: Aedes aegypti is a very hard mosquito to treat and deal with with insecticide. It wouldn't necessarily surprise me if there is some resistance.

ALLEN: Mayor Gimenez said there was some good news yesterday. Tests of people who live and work in other adjacent neighborhoods came back negative. He said that suggests officials may be able to contain the Zika threat and keep it from spreading further.

GIMENEZ: When you have a travel advisory to an area of your town, it's never a good thing. But we feel it's safe, and we're going to make it as safe as possible and then bring the confidence back. It's a really unique place to go.

ALLEN: Health officials say they're stepping up Zika education and outreach in Wynwood and will be distributing towelettes with mosquito repellent to businesses and visitors. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.