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Bad News for Sports Planners: Miami is Latest Hotbed of Zika

10 Aug, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Not even a wall around the U.S. would have stopped this threat. Miami, Florida, is the latest area of concern for the Zika virus, following the diagnosis of multiple cases in a neighborhood in the area. According to an article in Meetings & Conventions, personnel from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are already on the ground and more are arriving daily.

According to CNN, the affected area is a small community just north of downtown Miami. The Miami Herald refers to this area as the WynwoodMidtown/Design District. The article in the Herald contains a map of the affected zone, in which 10 cases have been reported to date.

The CDC personnel has performed assessments of mosquito populations and tests were conducted this past weekend by Florida public health officials, who found persistent mosquito populations and additional Zika infections in the same area.

The CDC's subsequent recommendations are for people who traveled to or lived in the areas on or after June 15, 2016, the earliest known date that someone could have been infected with Zika. At Florida's request, the CDC is also sending a CDC emergency response team with experts in the virus, pregnancy and birth defects, vector control, laboratory science and risk communications to assist in the response.

While the area is small, worries might affect Miami’s tourism sector, which includes a large amount of sports activity, including golf at TPC Blue Monster at Doral, the Miami Marlins (at Marlins Park), horse racing at Gulfstream Park, University of Miami Football at SunLife Stadium and more.

Will Seccombe, President & CEO of VISIT FLORIDA, noted to Sports Destination Management, “The Florida Department of Health reports that the only locally transmitted cases to date are confined to a neighborhood in Miami. For perspective, that’s a one-square-mile area in a state that covers more than 65,000 square miles. We have complete confidence in the Zika response efforts of state and local authorities and we continue to work with our industry partners to ensure that visitors have the information they need to make travel planning decisions.”

Seccombe also noted that the VISITFLORIDA.com website includes a section on travel and safety information, and that this would be kept updated with information on the Zika issue.

The news is worrisome for the tourism sector but according to an article in Meetings & Conventions, the president of the Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, William Talbert III, no groups have canceled since the problems were discovered.

"We want planners to know we are open for business," Talbert said.

According to an article the New York Times, "Though the warning comes in August, traditionally a slow season for tourism in Miami, it does coincide with the time that many travelers are looking to make their plans for winter vacations. It has left hoteliers and others in the travel industry nervous that the warning will dampen Florida’s $82 billion tourism industry." Restaurants and other businesses, particularly those in the Wynwood area, the article noted, are feeling the pinch.

The CDC’s recommendations for prevention and diagnosis of the Zika virus are by now familiar to those who have become familiar with the issue. They include avoidance of the area, particularly for pregnant women; speaking with a healthcare provider if a person has been in the area on or after June 15, 2016; use of a barrier method of birth control for persons who have been in the area, and even delaying pregnancy. More recommendations can be found on the CDC’s site. There is presently no vaccine for Zika, although an article in Travel Weekly notes that the U.S. government has begun human testing on a possible vaccine. In addition, those who need to be in the area should wear insect repellents with DEET, as well as long sleeves and long pants. Standing water should be removed so that mosquitoes cannot lay eggs.

"We work closely with Florida to gather and analyze new information every day," said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC. "With the new information that there are active mosquitoes still in the area and additional Zika infections, we conclude that pregnant women should avoid this area - and make every effort to prevent mosquito bites if they live or work there. We apply the same criteria within and outside of the United States, and are working closely with Florida and Miami health departments to provide preventive services, including mosquito control."

Based on the confirmation of local Zika transmission in Florida, the CDC has updated its Interim Zika Response Plan for the continental United States and Hawaii, and has released the Zika Community Action Response Toolkit to help states with risk communication and community engagement when local transmission is identified. 

Click here for more CDC information about Zika.

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