Zika Jitters

Fumigation in progress in Wynwood, a neighbourhood in Miami that is the epicentre of the first locally transmitted cases of Zika in the US - as opposed to cases stemming from travel to Zika-affected areas overseas.
Fumigation in progress in Wynwood, a neighbourhood in Miami that is the epicentre of the first locally transmitted cases of Zika in the US - as opposed to cases stemming from travel to Zika-affected areas overseas.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Miami, ground zero of first home-grown US cases, urges calm as it fumigates areas

MIAMI • The official line from ground zero in America's first home-grown Zika outbreak is this: relax, everything is under control.

But it is hard not to be jittery when some restaurants put cans of bug repellent on the tables.

The epicentre of the first locally transmitted cases of Zika in the United States - as opposed to cases stemming from travel to Zika-affected areas overseas - is part of a popular arts and restaurant district known as Wynwood. Fifteen cases have been reported.

Despite the upbeat tone from city officials, who say the affected area has been fumigated, some businesses are taking no chances.

Ms Grace Della, founder of Miami Culinary Tours, has halted her food crawls out of concern for the safety of employees and visitors.

  • Trial vaccines 'show promise'

  • MIAMI • Three different experimental Zika vaccines being developed in the United States have worked well in monkey studies, paving the way for human trials in the coming months, researchers said.

    The report, published in the journal Science, comes as researchers rush to find a way to stop the mosquito-borne virus, which can cause severe birth defects. It is spreading in 50 areas, mainly in Latin America, the Caribbean and Florida, in the US.

    "Three vaccines provided complete protection against Zika virus in non- human primates, which is the best animal model prior to starting clinical trials," said professor of medicine Dan Barouch at Harvard Medical School, the lead author of the report.

    "The consistent and robust protection against Zika virus in both rodents and primates fuels our optimism about the development of a safe and effective Zika vaccine for humans," he said.

    According to professor of vaccinology Sarah Gilbert at the University of Oxford, the research "describes an important step in the development of a Zika virus vaccine". But Prof Gilbert, who was not involved in the research, advised caution in proceeding with testing the vaccines in humans.

    AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

"I count more than 90 people that rescheduled the tours. So you can imagine it, for more businesses, that's a big hit," said Ms Della.

The virus is known to cause the severe birth defect microcephaly, in which babies are born with unusually small heads and brains.

The US health authorities issued a travel warning on Monday for the affected part of Wynwood, urging pregnant women not to go there.

That alert prompted Wynwood Yard, a cultural centre that hosts concerts and outdoor activities and features restaurants, to shut down. But other merchants, who work indoors with air-conditioning, said the culinary tour firm and the cultural centre are isolated cases.

"Those are different kinds of businesses, that operate outdoors," said Mr Joaquin Cintron, manager of a hair salon called Razzle Dazzle.

"What is more, people are reacting positively," he added.

Mr Cintron's shop - with tapestries and vintage sofas - is a postcard of Wynwood: a gentrifying neighbourhood where hip millennials rub elbows with low-income people on rundown streets that boast art galleries.

So Wynwood is part of the city's tourism route. But it is too early to say if the Zika outbreak will hurt the tourism industry.

The Miami authorities are bending over backwards to keep panic and the Zika outbreak from spreading. "As long as everybody takes the proper precautions, there is no need for any sort of panic that will have an economic effect," said Mr Ken Russell, a member of the city council from a ward that includes part of the Zika-hit area.

The media can be the main source of damage, said assistant professor Carolin Lusby at the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, Florida International University.

She cited the impact that Ebola and swine flu had on tourism, saying negative hype has a negative economic impact, but things eventually go back to normal.

Separately, two babies have been born in California with microcephaly after their mothers contracted Zika, the authorities said on Thursday, in a first for the state.

The California Department of Public Health did not reveal where the mothers were from but said they were infected this year in a country where the virus is endemic.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2016, with the headline 'Zika Jitters'. Print Edition | Subscribe