By Michele Dargan, Special for the Civic Association -- Seeing the proactive approach Palm Beach has taken to reduce the mosquito population that transmits the Zika virus, healthcare attorney Judy Goodman wants to share the town’s plan with other communities.
Ms. Goodman, a Palm Beach Civic Association Director, is a member of the Civic Association’s Health Care Committee. She also is on the advisory council for the Palm Beach County Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP). The plan focuses on three top priorities in improving the quality of life and health of county residents.
One of the objectives is to increase the education, awareness and prevention of Zika virus control in the community.
Ms. Goodman said she was impressed by the town’s aggressive approach to Zika when she listened to periodic updates from Town Councilwoman Maggie Zeidman and Deputy Town Manager Jay Boodheshwar of the town’s Zika Task Force.
Photo: Judy Goodman, Palm Beach Civic Association Director
“Why not take the town’s great work and use it as a model for other communities?” Ms. Goodman said. “Various municipalities can see what Palm Beach is doing and use the parts that are applicable to them. Other organizations might want to disseminate the information. This is an informational campaign.”
Once she receives the town’s plan from the Zika Task Force, Ms. Goodman said she will bring it to the CHIP Advisory Council and then pass it on to groups like the Florida League of Cities. From there, she would like to see various community groups distribute the information to people who spend a lot of time outside, particularly the homeless population. Maybe some community groups can distribute repellent with DEET to those who are homeless, she said.
“We’re trying to be preventative and share information with populations at high risk,” she said.
Mrs. Zeidman and Mr. Boodheshwar updated residents at the June 13 Town Council meeting, saying residents must remain diligent to prevent Zika outbreaks.
“I know we all have Zika fatigue as we head into our second season of dealing with the Aedes mosquitoes,” Mrs. Zeidman said. “The good news is that we know a lot more than we did a year ago. We know the habits, the habitats, the life cycle of the mosquitoes. We know how to protect ourselves and our families from being bitten. We also know how to reduce the mosquito population, which our town has been doing since last October by using larvicide.”
Mrs. Zeidman thanked the town, Mayor Gail Coniglio, Governor Rick Scott, the Palm Beach Civic Association, the Zika Task Force and the Citizens’ Association of Palm Beach for their support in the fight against Zika.
Photo: Maggie Zeidman, Town Councilwoman & Zika Task Force Chair
Mrs. Zeidman emphasized that the Town of Palm Beach has never used the mosquito pesticide Naled.
“Naled harms bees, butterflies and birds, but we have not used anything like that,” she said.
Mr. Boodheshwar said the town treated all public catch basins with larvicide in May. He urged residents to do their part by using larvicide on their property to prevent breeding and emptying any standing water containers, which are breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Last year, the town hired a contractor to perform a town-wide mosquito pesticide misting at the end of October and would do it again if needed, Mr. Boodheshwar said.
“This is a collaborative effort,” he said. “The most significant portion of this community is private property. The town is doing its part relative to the public spaces, but we really need the community to do their part [on their own property].
Mr. Boodheshwar cited an ordinance in the town code that makes it unlawful for any person to have a collection of water that can breed mosquitoes. The town has advised staff who sees standing water on private property during the course of their daily work to report it, he said. He also urged residents to report any standing water in their neighbors’ yards, particularly with many properties vacant in the summer.
Once the town verifies the code violation, town staff notifies the property owner, who has three days to correct the problem, or the town will correct it and charge it back to the property owner, Mr. Boodheshwar said.
Photo: Jay Boodheshwar, Deputy Town Manager
“We do need the community to be our eyes and ears,” he said. “We have a plan. We’re putting it in place for prevention, and we’re ready to react if there is an issue.”
Town attorney John Randolph said, “We cannot trespass on another person’s property in order to check for code violations, but if it’s something that can be seen from outside their property without trespassing on their property, they can be cited.”
Zika became a household word last year after it spread to South Florida through travelers, who had been bitten by infected mosquitos in Brazil and other countries with outbreaks, and returned to the United States. Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes live in Florida and are transmitters of Zika, dengue, and chikungunya viruses. When those mosquitoes bite an infected person and then bite other people who aren’t infected, the virus spreads. Zika is also spread through sex. Non-travelers were infected through having sex with an infected traveler.
Zika infection during pregnancy is linked to a serious birth defect of the brain in the fetus called microcephaly, which makes it particularly important for pregnant woman not to contract Zika.
Many people infected with Zika virus, 80% according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), won't have symptoms or will only have mild symptoms. The most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis. Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache.
The good news is that there have only been 55 Zika cases diagnosed in Florida this year and all were travel related; while last year at this time there were 220 statewide cases diagnosed. In Palm Beach County, there have been only three cases confirmed in 2017 and all were travel related, according to the Florida Department of Health.
“We’ve had no locally-acquired cases this year and only eight last year,” said Tim O’Connor, spokesman for the Palm Beach County Department of Health. “It’s really a personal effort on the part of all individuals in the county to drain all standing containers of water. Those mosquitoes can lay their eggs in containers as small as a bottle cap. People should use insect repellants as the manufacturer recommends and do your own personal due diligence around your property.”
The swarms of mosquitoes that have appeared as a result of the recent heavy rains are non-disease carrying salt marsh mosquitoes and they likely have blown into Palm Beach County on heavy winds from the Florida Keys, said Gary Goode, environmental program supervisor at Palm Beach County Environmental Resources Management/Mosquito Control. Salt marsh mosquitoes generally do not breed in Palm Beach County, he said.
“We’re seeing a widespread distribution and pretty high numbers of the salt marsh mosquitoes,” he said. “They’re very aggressive and get people upset, but, fortunately, they’re not a disease carrying mosquito”
To prevent Zika-transmitting mosquitoes from breeding, Mr. Goode urges residents to flush out bromeliads (plants that hold water) once or twice a week or treat bromeliads with granular larvicides, that are safe for the plants and the homeowner.
This year, there have been 12 confirmed cases of Zika in Broward County and 21 in Miami-Dade, according to the CDC. On June 2, the CDC removed a cautionary Zika travel advisory for pregnant women traveling to Miami-Dade County.
There are Zika bags – with residential-grade larvicide and educational information - available for residents in the town manager’s office at Town Hall, Mr. Boodheshwar said.
Mrs. Zeidman urged residents to be vigilant and report any areas with an increase in the mosquito population as well as properties with standing water.
“It’s extremely important to fight the bite by using repellents, to empty standing water around your homes, and use larvicides,” Mrs. Zeidman said.