The threat of Zika has left many authorities scrambling to come up with safe and effective solutions. Miami Beach, for example, took action by using specialized trucks carrying an organic bacteria called BTI to kill mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus. And while the spray is thought to be environmentally friendly, another chemical is sparking speculations over its safety.
On Tuesday morning, trucks made their way through Miami Beach spraying BTI. “It’s very benign to humans,” explained Laura McGowan, spokesperson of Clarke, the company hired by Miami-Dade County to spray the bacteria. “BTI attacks the actual larva of the mosquito, getting into their gut and making it so they can’t process food and that they can’t develop.”
In August, aerial spraying began in Wynwood, just north of Downtown Miami, using BTI and a powerful neurotoxin called Naled. “Naled… can essentially kill anything,” noted Tanjim Hossain, a graduate research fellow at the University of Miami. “When a droplet of the insecticide touches a mosquito, it kills the mosquito pretty much instantaneously.”
While Naled may be effective, it’s highly controversial, even being banned from the European Union and protested in Puerto Rico, which is one of the most infiltrated zones of Zika in the world. Puerto Rican officials claim Naled is unsafe for pregnant women, and may be the reason their babies are developing behavioural issues.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who says the number of Miami Beach mosquitoes with Zika increased over the weekend, announced that the flights recommended by Florida health officials and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would begin Thursday and continue for a month.
The Florida Health Department announced on Tuesday that there have been six new non-travel related causes of the virus in Miami Beach.
Despite the CDC’s recommendation of using helicopters to spray BTI, Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco said the people in his community oppose the aerial spraying.“They definitely don’t want it here,” he said. “The governor has a job to do but at the same time he’s not boots on the ground here in Miami Beach. We are. We know what the people in Miami Beach want.”
Grieco is urging Miami-Dade County to stop using Naled for aerial spraying. “It’s a neurotoxin. We don’t know the risks. It’s been outlawed in Europe since 2012. It’s something that has not been used in Miami, historically,” Grieco said.
The city’s mayor, Philip Levine, also has his doubts. “I am not comfortable with it, but I think it’s important that we listen to the proper scientific and medical authorities and what they recommend,” he said.
And though such prominent people have voiced their concerns, the plan to begin spraying forged ahead, until a fiery public debate on Wednesday in South Beach outside City Hall prompted Miami-Dade officials to delay the start of spraying — but only by 24 hours.
Is All This Really Necessary?
Amidst the growing concerns, health officials in Brazil have admitted that Zika alone may not be responsible for the rise in birth defects in parts of the country.
The virus may be linked to the birth defect called microcephaly, but while Zika has been spreading at extremely high rates throughout Brazil, microcephaly has not.
“We suspect that something more than Zika virus is causing the high intensity and severity of cases,”explains Dr. Fatima Marinho, Director of Information and Health Analysis at Brazil’s Ministry of Health.
You can read more about that here.
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