Meeting Mentor Magazine

May 2024

Cover Story

Local Transmission in U.S. of Zika Virus
Adds New Wrinkles to Managing Meeting Risks

Worries over the Zika virus are adding some new wrinkles to managing meeting risks.

Sharon Schenk, CMP, is trying to strike the proper balance as she monitors the virus’s progress, medical warnings and recommended preventive measures. “I am concerned about Zika because we are putting our people in Mexico in 2016 and 2017, and in the Caribbean in 2018,” said the director, conventions and event management, for CCA Global Partners, Inc. “The health and safety of our members is number one for us.” She’s considering what contingency plans may need to be put in place and when, including the possibility of purchasing event cancellation insurance. “Now that Zika has been contracted in the U.S., in my opinion, it won’t matter whether we meet at home or abroad.”

News of the Zika virus’s local transmission in Florida heightens concerns on all sides. As of Aug. 10, 48 states reported 1,955 Zika virus cases to the CDC, while U.S. territories counted 6,587 locally acquired cases plus 31 travel-associated cases. The Florida Department of Health has confirmed 440 travel-related infections, 59 infections involving pregnant women, and 30 cases that represent transmission from infected mosquitoes in a very localized area of Miami-Dade county. In response, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised pregnant women to avoid traveling to that limited area.

To further guard against the emerging local outbreak, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration asked that all blood collections in Miami-Dade and Broward counties stop immediately until donor screening tests for Zika virus can be done. The FDA also asked nearby counties to implement these precautions to maintain a safe blood supply.

Here’s how some Florida destinations are responding:
Orlando: “Safety is the top priority for our region,” said George Aguel, president and CEO, Visit Orlando, which hosted more than 66 million visitors in 2015. “No locally acquired cases of Zika have been reported, and we have every confidence in our county’s public health system and its ability to manage any developments swiftly and effectively.” He cited “robust programs” of Orange County’s mosquito control department, as well as highly maintained landscaping efforts from tourism partners. “We communicate regularly with numerous state and local public health organizations, such as the Florida Department of Health, to monitor new developments.”

Miami: “The safety and well-being of the 15.5 million visitors to Miami and the Beaches is a top priority for the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau and all our travel and tourism partners,” stated an advisory updated by the CVB on August 8. “There is no widespread transmission of Zika in Miami-Dade County. [Our] mosquito-control team is continually testing mosquitos for Zika, and to date none of the mosquitos have tested positive for Zika. This is a reassuring sign and further evidence that travel into Miami and The Beaches remains safe. The CDC’s advisory is specific to pregnant women and only for a tightly contained neighborhood.”

Tampa: A statement by Visit Tampa Bay president Santiago Corrada noted that there has been no local transmission of Zika virus for the “handful” confirmed with the virus among Hillsborough County’s population of 1.3 million. It spotlighted the area’s very active mosquito control program, and its five-hour drive from the current CDC travel advisory in a small corner of Miami.

Meanwhile, here are some updated CDC recommendations:
— To consumers: CDC advises that pregnant women not travel to the identified area in Miami. It also counsels that “all pregnant women with sex partners (male or female) who live in or traveled to an area with Zika use condoms during sex or abstain from sex for the remainder of their pregnancy.” As well, women and men who traveled to and left the affected area should wait at least eight weeks before trying for a pregnancy, and men with symptoms of Zika should wait at least six months before trying for a pregnancy.
— To healthcare providers: CDC calls for all pregnant women throughout the U.S. to be assessed for possible Zika virus exposure during each prenatal care visit and tested according to its guidance.

Funding remains an issue. With bills for $1.9 billion in emergency supplemental appropriations to combat the Zika virus stalled in Congress, the New York Times reported that the Obama administration just shifted $81 million from other health programs to pay for Zika vaccine development. Money from an earlier funding shift of $589 million will be gone by the end of August. — Maxine Golding

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