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Miami Construction Boom Brings Back Zika Virus Worries

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Construction sites that opened in Miami as part of the county's second building boom refuel concerns about the deadly Zika virus, since they are known to attract mosquitoes and become flourishing breeding sites.

County inspectors voice their worries that construction dumpsters, elevator shafts and the five-gallon plastic buckets popular with contractors may once again lead to a surge in mosquito populations, renewing the Zika threat.

Although officials haven't yet confirmed the presence of Zika mosquitoes in the Miami area, preparations are already being made to curb the potential reemergence of the virus by way of spraying aerial pesticides.

"Construction sites are a major breeding source," Paul Mauriello, deputy director of the Miami-Dade County Department of Solid Waste Management, said in a statement.

Mauriello warns that, in the prospect of the upcoming rainy season, water pooling all over these areas (as well as in bromeliad leaves) is still an important concern, as it creates the perfect conditions for mosquitoes to thrive. He added authorities have already begun removing bromeliads growing on public property.

Zika Prevention Measures Already In Effect

Miami is the first U.S. county to report Zika transmission in 2016. In an effort to avoid last year's chain of events, which resulted in a Miami-Dade full-on outbreak, officials have already set up this year's first mosquito control workshop, organized at the beginning of this week.

The workshop is part of an ongoing public awareness campaign aiming to keep virus-carrying mosquitoes in check and proactively designate Zika zones before the start of the summer rains. On April 3, county officials met Builders Association of South Florida representatives to distribute literature about mosquito control.

One of the preventive strategies discussed at the workshop is increasing code enforcement for property owners that disregard water accumulation on their premises.

"We're going to be a lot more aggressive about it," reassures Carlos Gimenez, Miami-Dade County Mayor, who is determined to limit the possibility of active transmission zones.

In view of the recent yellow fever outbreak in Brazil, Gimenez is adamant about curtailing mosquito populations to avoid the potential confrontation with yet another mosquito-borne virus.

Miami-Dade has assigned a $10 million budget for the purpose of suppressing the mosquito danger, with county officials already monitoring 130 traps and spraying larvae-killing pesticide.

An additional 90 traps are to be set in the near future, with preventive efforts doubled by the intensified surveillance of carrier insects, which — according to Chalmers Vasquez, head of Miami-Dade County Mosquito Control Operations — are now being screened for the dengue virus and chikungunya as well.

Trucks dispersing larvaecide are still patrolling four local neighborhoods where Zika mosquitoes were most prevalent last year, and the country has replaced the chemicals that proved ineffective in previous insect control tactics.

Ground Zero

Last summer, Wynwood neighborhood in Miami was declared the nation's first Zika transmission zone. Health officials continue to caution pregnant women against traveling to Miami-Dade.

Vasquez believes county authorities are better equipped to deal with the possible virus transmission than in 2016, when Miami-Dade initially deployed traps for generic marsh mosquitoes, which are not among the species that carry the virus.

This is the reason why mosquito inspectors are now targeting unfinished homes and buildings, since construction sites played a big part in Zika transmission. A clear example is the Miami Beach site, associated with the virus and placed under multiple warnings from August to December.

Even though construction workers on the Brickell Avenue site tested positive for Zika in 2016, the area wasn't declared a virus transmission zone.

"They had five elevator shafts that were breeding mosquitoes that we had to treat on a regular basis until they sealed the construction site," said Vasquez.

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