- The Washington Times - Monday, September 19, 2016

Mosquitoes are no longer spreading Zika in the Miami neighborhood that had been “ground zero” for transmission in the continental U.S. this summer, officials said Monday, saying they conquered the disease with aggressive spraying and careful disease-tracking.

Zika is still spreading in nearby Miami Beach, but Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s announcement was a major relief for the Wynwood district, which had gained the spotlight after federal officials warned pregnant women not to visit the artsy neighborhood for fear of the mosquitoes.

Wynwood has now gone 45 days, or three incubation cycles of the disease-carrying mosquito, without a new bite-related case, leading the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to lift its unprecedented advisory to avoid the neighborhood.

“Everybody should be coming back here and enjoying themselves,” Mr. Scott said.

Zika, which causes a birth defect in which babies are born with small heads, has not turned into the widespread pandemic some officials had suggested at the beginning of the summer.

Of the nearly 3,200 cases identified in the U.S., nearly all of them were contracted elsewhere by travelers who brought the disease back here or who had sexual contact with an infected traveler.

Just 95 cases were contracted by mosquito bite in the U.S., and those occurred in Wynwood and in a larger area in Miami Beach, plus isolated spots around Florida. State officials have expanded Miami Beach’s transmission zone from 1.5 square miles in August to 4.5 square miles now.

Southern states with a high number of the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, the virus’ main vector, face the biggest threat of Zika transmission.

Yet even in those places, the threat “should diminish substantially” as summer ends, the temperatures drop below 80 degrees or so and mosquito activity fades, according to Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior associate at the University of Pittsburgh Center for Health Security.

“The local outbreaks in Florida were entirely expected, based on prior experience with dengue and chikungunya,” Dr. Adalja said. “[Disease trackers] expected localized [Zika] outbreaks with no more than a few hundred cases — which the Florida outbreaks are consistent with.”

As it stands, Wynwood is celebrating an incremental victory that CDC officials attributed to the use of naled, an organophosphate spray for adult mosquitoes, and Bti, a naturally occurring bacterium used on larvae.

Mr. Scott also praised local residents for dumping standing water, using insect repellent and taking other precautions.

Zak the Baker, a local bakery and cafe, offered pregnant women a free lunch to celebrate Monday’s milestone.

“We’re packed. We’re slammed right now,” said its 31-year-old owner, Zak Stern, a shaggy-bearded baker who developed an “unlikely bromance” with Mr. Scott after the Republican governor cited the bakery in public pleas to help Wynwood businesses amid the Zika scare.

Mr. Stern estimated that Wynwood vendors saw a 25 percent-to-60 percent drop-off in business during the outbreak, based on anecdotal evidence. He said business tends to sag in the muggy summer as tourists wait for colder months elsewhere to flee to Miami.

His bakery was able to absorb a loss in foot traffic through some of its wholesale business, but it still felt the pain and had to lay off some workers.

Mr. Stern has more than just a financial stake in how Zika plays out. He lives in the transmission zone in Miami Beach, and his wife, Batsheva, is due to give birth in four weeks. A recent ultrasound indicated everything is OK.

Beyond that, the couple is taking basic precautions.

“We refuse to fly to another state or live in an incubator,” he said, arguing that he didn’t want being outdoors to join “fish, wine and soft cheeses” as things expecting couples need to worry about.

For now, he’s just thankful that Mr. Scott walked into his store and liked what he saw.

“I never thought I’d be grateful to Rick Scott,” Mr. Stern said, declining to delve into his own politics. “And here I am, grateful that he’s name-dropping us on ‘Meet the Press.’”

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