Quick, have you or anyone you know recently been to Florida? Do you live near an airport? If the answers are yes to either question, you might be feeling a tad uneasy about the CDC’s unique new warnings about Miami.
It’s hard to understand the CDC’s announcement that pregnant women should avoid an area in Miami’s Wynwood arts district. The last time I checked, mosquitoes don’t read road signs. Other that financially destroying a region of Miami (where should we go to dinner? Zika or Non-Zika?) the CDC’s unprecedented announcement seems both myopic and overblown.
To begin with, the CDC backdates its warning to June 15th, so anyone who’s visited Miami and is now living in Maine suddenly needs to be concerned. The CDC also goes through an extensive set of restrictions for couples wanting to conceive that extends far beyond avoiding the Miami area.
It is one thing to say mosquitoes in a certain area in Miami should be avoided. It is another for the CDC to say that: “All pregnant women in the United States should be assessed for possible Zika virus exposure during each prenatal care visit.” The first is a dramatic warning for a small area, the second is an admission that mosquitoes are not the primary cause of Zika spread (people are) and that Zika is a sexually transmitted disease that is not limited to any region in the U.S. It’s pretty concerning to have the CDC confirm: it’s here, it’s everywhere, and we have no treatment.
But before we all run around screaming about Zika, what’s missing from this discussion is any larger picture. We need a reasonable plan, not an area quarantine that the mosquitoes won’t obey. After financially destroying an area of Miami, what’s next? Should we avoid Austin, San Diego, anywhere Zika cases arise? Of course not. The vast majority of people are at tiny risk from Zika. Even the overwhelming majority of women who catch Zika will have no birth defects. But we’re not hearing that, we’re hearing increasing terror and an arbitrary warning that will make no difference to the spread of the disease. Because it’s people, not mosquitoes, that we need to stop spreading Zika.
I’ve written a very short book that lays out why, while concerned, we shouldn’t be panicked by Zika. I also lay out a case that women who just have Zika without other similar exposures may have even less risk. We need to have someone step in and lower our panic, not increase it with quarantine announcements.