Pregnant women living in Miami's Zika hot zone are fearful

Friday, August 5, 2016

MIAMI -- Jessica Ardente waited 36 years to have her first baby. Her parents will visit in two weeks to watch their grandson's ultrasound. There are cribs and car seats to shop for, a nursery to decorate and bottles, diapers and clothes to buy.

And now, on top of everything else, there is Zika to worry about.

Ardente lives in the one-square-mile section of Miami health officials are urging pregnant women to avoid because of the mosquito-borne illness, which can cause severe birth defects, including stunted heads.

"You can take every step you can trying to take care of yourself with your diet and exercise and going to your prenatal appointments, but now I have to worry about mosquitoes and going outside," a four-months-pregnant Ardente said, petting her dog as she sat on the couch in her one-bedroom apartment.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned expectant mothers to steer clear of the city's Wynwood neighborhood, where at least 15 people are believed to have been infected with the Zika virus through mosquito bites in the first such cases on record in the mainland U.S.

Avoiding the neighborhood of trendy shops, galleries and restaurants might be just an inconvenience for pregnant women who live outside Wynwood. But Ardente said it's a near-impossible request for her, and she's staying put despite offers from friends to crash at their places.

"What do you do when you live there? You can't stay out of that area," the single mother-to-be said. "It's scary, but I'm not going to not leave my house. I'm just trying to be careful."

She smiles while showing off red-and-blue baby onesies adorned with colorful giraffes -- a gift from a friend. For now, other than her belly, it's the only evidence in the apartment she is pregnant.

Her doctor has told her to consider hiring a dog walker, but she insists on sticking to her routine while taking precautions. She puts on bug spray and wears long pants and long sleeves every morning and evening, despite the sweltering summer heat, when she walks the dog.

It also means more doctor visits, plus frequent blood and urine tests. And she's working out indoors now instead of at a studio that keeps its bay doors open.

U.S. health authorities have said they don't expect major outbreaks in this country like those seen in Latin America and the Caribbean. But concerns mounted after experts admitted Tuesday despite aggressive spraying, they are having a difficult time eradicating the mosquitoes that spread the illness. The Aedes aegypti mosquito can breed in just a bottle cap of standing water.

Hospitals and clinics in the area have been swamped with calls and visits.

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