Saturday, December 16, 2017
Business

Is Zika an economic threat to Florida's tourism boom?

Ignoring the potential threat of the Zika virus to Florida's economy, especially as the humid summer takes hold, is hardly a smart option.

Mosquitoes carrying Zika are expected to begin infecting Americans within the U.S. in the next month or so, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Sunday, as officials race to prevent a widespread outbreak of the virus that is believed linked to birth defects.

More than 500 Americans have the Zika disease, mostly acquired during travel outside the country. But experts see a next phase coming when people in the United States with Zika will be bitten by mosquitoes that, in turn, will spread the virus more quickly.

Florida seems in harm's way. It's a gateway to Latin America and the Caribbean where Zika already is spreading. And the Sunshine State is nothing if not friendly to the mosquito, especially in the hot summer months.

Is Zika an economic threat to the state, particularly to its booming tourism industry, which is breaking records left and right?

The Tampa Bay Times asked Purdue University professor John Wensveen, who heads the School of Aviation & Transportation Technology (and who happens to own a home in the Florida Keys) of the possible danger ahead. The remarks are edited for length and clarity.

How vulnerable is Florida to Zika?

Given Florida's geographic location and climate conditions, there is concern for increased transmission of the virus due to airline connectivity to infected countries as well as maritime ports where cruise lines also service infected countries. Florida's connectivity with San Juan, Puerto Rico, is of special concern given the number of reported Zika cases.

The risk of infection during air travel is very low and there have not been any documented cases of passengers being infected with Zika virus as a result of travel. Aircraft do not provide friendly environments for adult mosquitoes that carry the virus.

If Zika should become more prominent in this state, at what point will we see "stay away from Florida" messaging appear?

Every precaution is being taken to combat the spread of the Zika virus including the monitoring of the mosquito population and airports throughout the state have implemented enhanced mosquito spraying programs. Florida is experiencing record tourism and the Zika threat has not seemed to negatively impact this so far. Foreign visitors to Florida come, in order, from Canada, the United Kingdom and Brazil. This is concerning because the bulk of Zika virus reports come out of Brazil and Florida experienced 1.48 million tourists from Brazil in 2015. Of greater concern is the volume of travel that will occur between Florida and Brazil as a result of the 2016 Olympic Games. In my professional opinion, I do not believe the traveling public will start receiving "stay away from Florida" messages.

Is the country taking appropriate action at this point?

For the most part, yes. Currently, the Centers for Disease Control are not implementing additional screening procedures for travelers mainly because symptoms are not detectable. Airlines have not been told to do anything extra in terms of disinfecting aircraft but do follow guidelines from countries that do require disinfection. It is expected that policies and guidelines may change as more information is revealed about the Zika virus. The 2014 Ebola outbreak caused greater concern for the global airline industry than what we are dealing with now.

Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected] Follow @venturetampabay.

Comments
Fueled by indulgence and machismo, restaurants are a hotbed for sexual harassment

Fueled by indulgence and machismo, restaurants are a hotbed for sexual harassment

When Brenda Terry was 16 and living in St. Louis, she was a hostess and food runner at a sports bar where female employees wore cute, little cheerleading skirts. One night, she said, a patron grabbed her crotch. She ran to her management team and the...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Pigs can be therapy animals too. So can horses and rats and cats and llamas and … (w/video)

Pigs can be therapy animals too. So can horses and rats and cats and llamas and … (w/video)

Shrieks of laughter echoed off the walls of the hospital as Thunder the mini pig flopped onto his side and the children huddled around him, scratching his pink, hairy belly. He and his wet-nosed partner, Bolt, drew patients in wheelchairs and bandage...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Vology landlord challenges property tax assessment

Vology landlord challenges property tax assessment

LARGO — Eight months after paying $10.15 million for the office building that houses IT services company Vology, a New York company is suing the Pinellas County Property Appraiser and Florida Department of Revenue contending its $5.5 million tax asse...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Taxpayer subsidies of Tampa golf courses are on the rise as struggles continue

Taxpayer subsidies of Tampa golf courses are on the rise as struggles continue

TAMPA — For the half of the year that Harry Nichols lives in Oldsmar, he plays 18 holes several times a month at Rocky Point Golf Course. On a good day, Nichols said he shoots close to par on the Dana Shores course. And if he’s really lucky, it’ll on...
Published: 12/15/17
Florida’s $1.1 billion Hardest Hit Fund winding down after some hard knocks

Florida’s $1.1 billion Hardest Hit Fund winding down after some hard knocks

In 2010, Florida was in the throes of an unprecedented housing crisis. One in every eight homes was in some stage of foreclosure. Today, the foreclosure rate is one in every 83. Because of that enormous drop, Florida’s Hardest Hit Fund will s...
Published: 12/15/17
Report: Rich will get still richer unless policies change

Report: Rich will get still richer unless policies change

By ELAINE KURTENBACHTOKYO — Global inequality has stabilized at high levels in recent years, a report said Friday, despite gains among the poor in China and much milder disparities in incomes and wealth in Western Europe. The World Inequality Report ...
Published: 12/15/17
How the Disney/Fox deal will shake up Hollywood

How the Disney/Fox deal will shake up Hollywood

Associated Press NEW YORK — After years of tremors, the earthquake that had long been predicted finally shook Hollywood. Disney’s deal to purchase most of 21st Century Fox ends the era of the "Big Six" major movie studios, toppling one ...
Published: 12/15/17
St. Petersburg’s Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement set to be complete in 2019

St. Petersburg’s Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement set to be complete in 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — The Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, under construction since 2015, is scheduled to be complete by the summer of 2019.The five-story, 137,100-square-foot building will house businessman and collector Rudy Ciccarello’s...
Published: 12/15/17
Obamacare enrollment ends today, but some can get an extension

Obamacare enrollment ends today, but some can get an extension

Today is the day that open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act will close for most people. But those affected by the slew of hurricanes that pummelled Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and other states earlier this year can take advantage of a two-week ...
Published: 12/15/17
Pack your bags: 107.3M Americans to set holiday traveling record

Pack your bags: 107.3M Americans to set holiday traveling record

A record-breaking number of Americans are expected to travel this holiday season.The American Automobile Association projects that 107.3 million Americans will pack their bags and travel more than 50 miles by planes, trains, automobiles and other mod...
Published: 12/14/17