The first cases of Zika virus were reported in Miami-Dade and Broward counties in Florida in late July. These four locally identified cases were located within a very small area of these counties known as Wynwood. However, different methods of eradication, including releasing genetically modified mosquitoes to mate with wild mosquito females and spread a gene which would prevent any resulting mosquitoes from reaching adulthood in order to undercut the population, have been unsuccessful. Efforts in other areas of the United States with reported Zika outbreaks have been similarly unsuccessful. As a result, the CDC has issued travel guidance for those living in or traveling to South Florida as well as other areas. Whole areas of Miami-Dade county should be considered off-limits to pregnant women as well as others, if possible.
As of mid-October there have been 4,016 reported Zika cases in the United States. With very little in the way of prevention, the continued spread of the virus, the potentially severe health risks associated with the virus and the fact that scientists are still learning about the virus the spread is likely to continue as long as mosquitoes are located in areas with identified Zika cases. And that is a long list.
However, new methods of fighting the virus are being attempted. For example, the latest proposal put forth to combat the virus is the introduction of bats. Miami City Commissioner Kristin Rosen Gonzalez has proposed placing bat houses in the city to stem the spread of the virus. Gonzalez told ABC News that “some people are laughing and they are not taking it seriously. But bats, depending on the species, eat up to 3,000 mosquitoes in one day, and they avoid humans”. Larvacide, insecticide and door-to-door inspections have all previously been used in Miami to try and reduce the population of the Aedes aegypti mosquito that spreads the Zika virus.
This measure, if approved, may be ineffective due to the fact that according to the American Mosquito Control Association using bats in this manner is largely in effective and “to utilize them as the sole measure of control would be folly indeed, particularly considering the capacity of both mosquitoes and bats to transmit diseases”. Furthermore, introducing bats to this environment could be extremely disruptive and damaging to the local animal populations.
If the introduced bats become an invasive species measures would necessarily have to be taken in order to control their spread. Hawks and owls regularly eat bats. While hawks and owls are located in South Florida they may not be sufficient in number to effectively combat the bat problem. More hawks and owls may need to be introduced in order to manage the bats. These species may then cause additional threat and harm to humans. Hawks may eat owls, but very few animals eat hawks, besides larger hawks and foxes. Red foxes may be located in South Florida. But what happens if their numbers explode because of the vast amount of new food available to them? The foxes may be hunted by large cats, coyotes, jackals, wolves, eagles, bears and even humans. Bobcats, coyotes, red wolves, panthers and black bears are all located in Florida. These animals may then prey on the red foxes, as well as each other potentially, but then may pose a risk to people.
In other words, introduction of bats to combat the spread of the Zika virus will in all likelihood not only be ineffective but may also introduce a spiral of animal invasions which would then threaten the population of South Florida.
Therefore, if traveling to South Florida, don’t. If living in South Florida, you can’t go outside.
Have a nice day.