Thursday, December 14, 2017
Health

Local leaders tackle mosquitoes, call for more information as state investigates Pinellas Zika case

TAMPA — It may be up to two weeks before health officials know if a Pinellas resident who appears to have contracted Zika locally is an isolated case or the first sign that mosquitoes here are spreading the virus.

But the emergence of a potential mosquito-borne case has community leaders on both sides of Tampa Bay eager to reduce mosquito populations and has prompted renewed calls for health officials to reveal where the infection took place.

One day after Florida Department of Health officials announced the Pinellas case, Gov. Rick Scott and Florida Surgeon General Celeste Philip discussed the state's response at a roundtable with Hills­borough County leaders including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, County Commissioner Sandy Murman, school superintendent Jeff Eakins and state Reps. Dana Young and Janet Cruz.

No new locally transmitted cases were reported in Pinellas County on Wednesday, although Scott confirmed a new infection in Palm Beach County, raising the number of nontravel-related cases in Florida to 43.

At the roundtable, Buckhorn said Tampa may contract with firms for additional mosquito spraying, a function that is the responsibility of Hillsborough County. It follows his announcement Monday that code enforcement officers will target standing water in vacant homes with briquets that kill mosquito larvae.

"I'm not certain the urban areas are going to get the attention they deserve," Buckhorn said. "I'm not averse as a mayor to aggressive effort within the city to do additional spraying."

U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Belleair Bluffs, on Wednesday also stepped up his criticism of state health officials who for the second day remained tight-lipped about the home and work location of the Pinellas woman who contracted the virus.

Zika has been linked to microcephaly, a birth defect in which babies are born with smaller-than-normal heads and developmental problems. Jolly says residents need far more information, including an approximate location of the individual case and an advisory on where they should take extra precautions.

The lack of information will only create fear and uncertainty among pregnant women and those trying to start a family as he and his wife, Laura, are doing, he said.

"We're actively trying to have a family, and if we see a mosquito truck coming down the street, we're going to make decisions based on that information," Jolly said. "They should not wait like they did in Miami for it to spread; the stakes are too high."

Philip said the department won't reveal where the infected woman lives unless the neighborhood is classified as an active transmission zone. That would require the presence of additional linked infections. So far, people who were in close contact with the woman, who lives in Pinellas but works in Hillsborough, have tested negative for Zika.

"Oftentimes transmission may occur away from the residence of that individual," Philip said. "Having that information presented without us understanding better the time line and where exposure occurred is not helpful from a public health perspective."

An epidemiological investigation into the case still seeks to determine how the woman contracted the virus and to identify if she may have exposed others to the infection.

Even before the Pinellas case was confirmed, mosquito-abatement efforts on both sides of Tampa Bay were stepped up around locations where the resident spent time.

Across Tampa Bay, local agencies and governments are being vigilant for any further reports of infection and are increasing efforts to contain the virus.

Doug Holt, the director of the Hillsborough County Health Department, said his staff tracks travelers returning from areas where Zika is common and directs outdoor spraying efforts with them in mind. Those travelers are also asked to use repellent and wear long sleeves and pants to protect against mosquitoes.

"We're doing everything we can to prevent transmission," Holt said.

In St. Petersburg, Mayor Rick Kriseman's office asks city residents to use the See Click Fix smartphone application to report mosquito problems or standing water where mosquitoes might breed.

Since the locally transmitted case was announced Tuesday morning, Pinellas County has received more than 200 service requests for mosquito spraying and reports of standing water.

In Hillsborough, the county's Rapid Response team has removed 3,066 tires, deployed 544 mosquito dunks, cleaned up 593 potential mosquito breeding sites and removed 296 tons of waterlogged debris from county rights of way since February.

"We are laser-focused on getting rid of this mosquito and any virus it does cause," Murman said.

Times staff writer Charlie Frago contributed to this report. Contact Christopher O'Donnell at [email protected] or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.

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