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As Zika Continues Northward March, Sports Destinations Brace for Impact

7 Sep, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

The Zika virus continues its march northward, and officials at the National Institutes of Health have told sources it could “hang around” in the United States for a year or two, meaning sports event planners in the Southeast should be on their guard.

In an Associated Press story quoted in Meetings & Conventions, the NIH’s Dr. Anthony Fauci told ABC's This Week that other Gulf Coast states besides Florida are most vulnerable to the spread of the disease.

“I would not be surprised if we see cases in Texas and Louisiana, particularly now where you have the situation with flooding in Louisiana," said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "There are going to be a lot of problems getting rid of standing water.”

In fact, the online news site, AL.com, noted that state and local health officials say they've now identified cases of the Zika virus in 16 Alabama counties, including Mobile County. They believe all cases were contracted when affected individuals were traveling.

However, mosquito-borne Zika cases have been found in two neighborhoods of Miami-Dade County - the Wynwood neighborhood and Miami Beach. In addition, Zika is now being found in three distinct groups of mosquitoes in Florida. According to Meetings & Conventions, this is the first time this has happened in the continental U.S. -- and authorities are blaming a particular flower for making mosquito control much more difficult.

One of the traps that tested positive was at the Miami Beach Botanical Gardens, where bromeliads bloom. The plants trap standing water in their cylindrical centers, providing excellent breeding areas for mosquitoes amid their colorful flowers and pointy leaves.

To date, Florida and Alabama  are the first areas on the U.S. mainland where health officials determined mosquitoes were transmitting Zika, which has spread through Latin American and the Caribbean. It has also been found in Singapore.

Miami Mayor Philip Levine put a humorous face on the situation, telling New York radio station AM 970 that Miami Beach is running smoothly, despite the Zika concerns. “Those 15 mosquitoes have been put under arrest. They've been apprehended. We have them in jail right now,” Levine joked on The Cats Roundtable Show.

In the first week of August, the National Institutes of Health noted that an experimental vaccine for Zika was in human trials. According to the NIH, the early-stage study will evaluate the vaccine’s safety and ability to generate an immune system response in participants. At least 80 healthy volunteers ages 18-35 years at three study sites in the United States, including the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, are expected to participate in the trial. Scientists at NIAID’s Vaccine Research Center (VRC) developed the investigational vaccine — called the NIAID Zika virus investigational DNA vaccine — earlier this year.

Fauci said researchers are optimistic. "Hopefully, we get to a point to where we could suppress (Zika) so that we won't have any risk of it.”

Meanwhile, Levine also noted, Miami workers are doing everything in their power to go after mosquitoes in the popular tourist destination.

Many other areas, currently unaffected by Zika, remain in a wait-and-see holding pattern.

“We have not received any specific concerns, but we would encourage any beach visitors to follow the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines, wear bug spray with DEET, etc.,” noted Ally Dorrough, public relations coordinator for Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

The CDC’s guidelines can be found here.

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