Miami police pass out mosquito repellent to homeless in Wynwood area

14 people believed to have contracted Zika virus from mosquitoes in Wynwood

MIAMI – Miami police gave away more than 50 cans of mosquito repellent Tuesday to homeless people in the Wynwood area.

The giveaway began at 10:30 a.m. at the Miami Rescue Mission at 2020 NW First Ave.

James Bernat knows the Wynwood streets well. So with the Zika virus in the neighborhood, the Miami Police Department homeless coordinator immediately thought of those who were almost always at risk of exposure to mosquitoes.

"Homeless (people) are the most needy and they're out 24/7 exposed to mosquitoes," Bernat said. "We need to do what we can to help them and it's the right thing to do."

Dozens of people came to get the spray. Others Bernat went to find, like Lorenzo Ward. He had been using an effective, but painful mosquito deterrent.

"I use bleach and alcohol at nighttime before I go to bed on my skin. It burns the skin, but it keeps the mosquitoes off," Ward said.

Ward agreed that the spray is a better alternative.

The Miami Rescue Mission is within the Zika zone and hundreds of homeless are potentially exposed to the virus.

The spray, along with information about the virus, are part of the city's effort to slow the spread of the virus.

One homeless man, Brandon St. Jean, is putting his life back together. He already has a son and might want to continue growing a family someday. He worries about potentially passing the virus on.

"Thank God for sending him," St. Jean said.

Bernat said he hopes to help as many homeless people as possible from contracting the virus.

"My understanding is it can make you ill (and) can be exposed through sexual activity," Bernat said. "(We're trying to) not only help the pregnant females and homeless males. Everyone in the community needs to be helped."

Health officials said there were three new travel-related cases in Miami-Dade County Tuesday and one new non-travel-related case.

This brings the total number of locally acquired infections to 15.

The area of concentration is in Wynwood, between Northwest Fifth Avenue and Biscayne Boulevard to Northwest 38th Street and Northwest 20th Street.

The Department of Health said in its daily report Monday that more than 200 people in Miami-Dade and Broward counties have been tested for the virus because they live or work near the individuals who have already been confirmed with likely mosquito-borne transmissions.

Most people tested negative for Zika, but there were seven positive cases in the Wynwood area and three probable cases.

Health officials said six who tested positive for the virus were asymptomatic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel advisory warning pregnant women to stay away from Miami's Wynwood neighborhood because of the Zika virus threat.

According to the CDC, the Zika virus typically causes a mild rash, fever and joint pain. Only one in five people infected with the virus are symptomatic.

Since earlier this year, Florida Surgeon General Dr. John Armstrong has advised Floridians to drain standing water, no matter how seemingly small. He said just a couple of drops of water in a bottle cap can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

More than 2,300 people statewide have been tested for the virus.

About the Authors: