MIAMI—Over the last few months, Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood came to be known for something other than its cute cafés and swanky art galleries: Zika. In July, the very first locally transmitted U.S. case of the virus was reported in the neighborhood. Soon after, the number of such cases in Miami-Dade County multiplied. By August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel advisory.
Local authorities scrambled to get things under control. Solutions considered to cut down the population of Aedes aegypti, the type of mosquito that spreads Zika, ranged from bats to genetic modification to newfangled mosquito traps. Eventually, the city settled on aerial and ground-sprays of mosquito-killing chemicals. It worked; for now, the number of locally transmitted cases of Zika in Florida has been capped at 137.
There’s a reason that Wynwood became a breeding ground for Zika in the first place, CDC director Tom Frieden explained at the CityLab 2016 summit Tuesday in Miami. “From a mosquito standpoint, Wynwood is a great place,” Frieden said. There’s construction sites and vacant lots, outside dining, lots of people discarding coffee cups and bottles of water. In other words, lots of standing pools of water, however small, and lots of food.
We already know that dense, heavily populated urban areas are at particular risk for mosquito-borne and other infectious diseases. But there are steps cities at higher risk for Zika can take. Frieden mentioned some effective solutions here in Miami have included focusing on elevator shafts in buildings, cemeteries, construction sites and other mosquito-friendly spaces. An investment in public health as a preemptive, not reactive measure, is key, Frieden said.
But at the end of the day, the problem of new infectious diseases is not just a local one. With rising migration and urbanization, a concerted, global effort is required to effectively battle emerging public health threats. “A weak link anywhere is a risk to us everywhere,” Frieden said.