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Zika in Florida: Are the Numbers Accurate? DOH Says 'Yes'

SEP 13, 2016 | BRIAN DUNLEAVY
The mainstream media has put the Florida Department of Public Health (DOH) on the defensive over Zika.

In a report published by The Miami Herald on September 10, public health experts from outside the state effectively accused DOH officials of under-reporting the number of locally transmitted Zika virus infections in Miami-Dade County and elsewhere in Florida. The article insinuated that these "undercounts" were intentional and coordinated, as part of an effort to not adversely impact the lucrative tourism industry in the state.

“I don’t think the message has been strong enough, in terms of ‘We have a problem,’” Arthur Caplan, director of medical ethics for New York University Langone Medical Center, told The Herald. “It makes no sense—unless you see it through the eyes of the impact on tourism. I think that’s money driving reporting rather than public health.”

Two days after the controversial article was published, Florida DOH officials issued a press release calling The Herald’s reporting “misleading” and “inaccurate.” In the press release, officials state that DOH is “committed to transparency… [and] follows guidelines set by” the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The press release also notes that, “No other state is sharing information on the Zika virus with the public as frequently as Florida.”

Of course, Florida is, to date, the only state to have reported local transmission of Zika virus via infected mosquitos. Several other states have identified travel-related cases, as well as those resulting from sexual contact with people infected elsewhere, as has the Sunshine State.

At issue, it seems, is the DOH’s accounting processes with regard to assessing incidence of all infectious diseases, not just Zika. The Herald report notes that Florida officials had been questioned earlier this year over the state’s figures for HIV infections. DOH claims that it is following CDC guidelines for such case counts by reporting cases by “state of residence [and] not by the location of where the virus was acquired.”

As of September 9, according to DOH data, there have been 56 confirmed cases of locally transmitted Zika virus in the state, with the vast majority concentrated in 2 areas in and around Miami. This total does not include 8 locally transmitted cases that have been identified in non-resident visitors to the state.
 
Brian P. Dunleavy is a medical writer and editor based in New York. His work has appeared in numerous healthcare-related publications. He is the former editor of Infectious Disease Special Edition.
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