CDC Warns Pregnant Women Against Visiting Miami's Zika-Stricken Wynwood Arts District
The trendy, fast-gentrifying neighborhood recently hosted the cast of 'Suicide Squad' for a block party and mural unveiling in the area.
Government health officials warned pregnant women Monday to avoid a Zika-stricken part of Miami and told couples who have been there recently to put off having children for at least two months, after the number of people feared infected through mosquito bites in the U.S. climbed to 14.
In its highly unusual and perhaps unprecedented travel warning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also said expectant mothers should get tested for the virus if they have visited the neighborhood since mid-June.
All 14 cases are thought to have occurred in Miami's Wynwood Arts District, a trendy, fast-gentrifying neighborhood of warehouses, art galleries, restaurants and boutiques. Just last week, the neighborhood hosted a block party for the cast of Suicide Squad (Margot Robbie and Will Smith attended) to celebrate a new mural.
Gov. Rick Scott asked for a CDC emergency response team to help Florida combat Zika, which has been sweeping Latin America and the Caribbean in recent months and now may be gaining a long-dreaded foothold in the U.S. The White House said a team will be sent quickly.
Health officials last Friday announced that mosquitoes have apparently started spreading Zika on the U.S. mainland, citing four cases they strongly believe were caused by bites. Ten more cases were announced Monday, even though Florida authorities have yet to find any mosquitoes actually carrying the virus.
CDC officials said they could not remember another time in the 70-year history of the disease-fighting agency when it told members of the public not to travel someplace in the U.S.
Zika infections in pregnant women can cause severe brain-related birth defects, including extremely small skulls. The global outbreak has led to more than 1,800 serious birth defects.
The virus can linger in the blood and urine for weeks, and has been found in sperm for months. As a result, the CDC said men and women who have recently been in the affected area should wait at least eight weeks before trying to conceive a child. And men who have had symptoms of Zika should wait at least six months, the CDC said.
The travel warning covers an area of about one square mile in Wynwood to the east of Interstate 95 and south of I-195. It's large enough, health officials said, to provide a buffer around the suspected hot zone. The tropical mosquito that spreads Zika travels less than 200 yards in its lifetime.
Dr. Peter Hotez, a tropical medicine expert at the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, said the CDC should be more cautious and expand the travel advisory to all of Miami-Dade County.
"If you're pregnant or think you might be pregnant, avoid travel to Miami, and possibly elsewhere in South Florida," he said. "I'm guessing most women who are pregnant are doing that. I don't think they're sitting around waiting for the CDC to split hairs and fine-tune it to a specific area."
CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said the narrowly drawn warning was dictated by science and not by any concern for Florida's crucial tourism industry. He said it was based on the nation's ability to contain previous outbreaks of other diseases carried by the same mosquito.
"We will continue to keep our residents and visitors safe utilizing constant surveillance and aggressive strategies, such as increased mosquito spraying, that have allowed our state to fight similar viruses," said Governor Rick Scott in a statement.