Pregnant woman takes "extra" precautions against Zika in Miami
There’s a lipstick stain on Sloane Borr’s beekeeper hat where her husband kissed her during their pregnancy announcement photo shoot.
The Borrs took their picture outside in a traditional pose, with the 29-year-old woman leaning against a palm tree, her smiling husband’s hand resting on her rounded stomach.
But that’s where tradition ends. Borr is wearing a white, full-body hazmat suit, complete with a hood, a wide-brimmed hat and insect netting over her beaming face. Stamped on the photo: Love in the time of Zika.
In Miami, where the Zika virus continues to be transmitted by mosquitoes, pregnant women are taking all sorts of measures to deal with the potential threat. Some barricade themselves inside, others leave town and a few, like Borr, take other precautions.
When she took the photo in September, Borr was trying to be a little light-hearted with her worry about the virus, which can cause microcephaly in fetuses, leaving infants with severe physical and mental disabilities. At that point, the only known areas of local transmission of the virus were Wynwood and Miami Beach.
But last week, the Florida Department of Health announced a new Zika zone. Her Little River home is in the middle of it. And on Wednesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged pregnant women who have visited any part of the county since Aug. 1 to get tested for the virus.
As of Thursday, 111 pregnant women throughout Florida have been infected with Zika, including a new pregnancy case reported Thursday by state health officials. The state does not identify the locations of the pregnancy cases.
Borr had announced she was pregnant just two weeks before the CDC declared on Aug. 1 that Wynwood was the first local Zika transmission zone in the continental U.S. Prior to that, many Zika-related microcephaly cases were emanating from Brazil. The Wynwood news left her stunned.
“When I saw the first picture of a baby with microcephaly, I burst into tears,” she said. “It seemed so far away in the jungle, and then it was in my backyard.”
Borr exercised at an outdoor gym in the heart of Wynwood. She fled to Boston to be with family and was tested for Zika by an obstetrician there. The test showed she was Zika-free.
She stayed for a month, wrestling with the decision to stay or go. On top of usual pregnancy worries, her anxiety and depression worsened the longer she was apart from her husband. She decided to come home.
“I felt so lonely, even though I have someone with me,” she said, rubbing her belly.
Her husband marked the occasion with a “really romantic present” — mosquito netting across the garage windows, a bug zapper and an electric bug-zapping paddle. Not so romantic? The condoms. Even if Borr remains Zika free, the virus can be sexually transmitted from an infected man to his partner.
Now, Borr is staying at home and waiting for the birth of her son in March. If she has to go outside, she drenches herself in bug repellent with DEET and covers up in long sleeves and pants. She checks her body every day for new bites.
The threat of the virus ruined what was supposed to be a special experience, Borr said. Instead of waiting to tell her loved ones she was pregnant after a year of trying, she ended up hastily posting the news in a group chat as she was en route to Boston.
“I had to be like, ‘Hey guys, I’m pregnant and I’m fleeing,’” she said. “Zika really stole my pregnancy thunder.”
Borr tries to think positive thoughts while she sits at home and waits for March and the arrival of her son. But the quiet gives her too much time to worry — worry about the aerial spraying of anti-Zika pesticides, worry about the possibility of her infant contracting the virus after birth, worry about the DEET seeping into her skin.
“It’s scary to raise your kids period, and it’s even scarier in Zika world,” she said.
Just in time
There are no Zika-positive mosquitoes in North Carolina.
As a precaution, Tom Haberstroh and his pregnant wife, Allison, left Miami Beach weeks after the Wynwood Zika zone was announced. Days later, state health officials declared parts of South Beach a new Zika zone; the Haberstrohs’ recently emptied apartment was in the heart of it.
A mosquito trap found Zika-positive insects at the farmers market on Lincoln Road, where Allison shopped days before they left.
They know that unlike many pregnant couples in a county where Zika is being transmitted, they were lucky to leave. Tom, 30, works remotely for ESPN. He said his employers accommodated the move to his family’s home in Pinehurst, North Carolina, where the couple will stay until they find a new house in Charlotte. Allison, 32, was an elementary school teacher in North Miami.
They broke the lease on the apartment, and boarded a plane five days after deciding to leave, with only the essentials packed.
The decision was “agonizing,” Allison said. What convinced her was advice from her obstetrician, who highly recommended considering leaving if the couple had the option.
Tom, “a numbers guy,” said the lack of data on the virus made the decision tougher. He refreshes the Florida Department of Health’s Twitter feed constantly in search of new statistics. “There wasn’t enough information to stay,” he said.
Even the short wait until the move was tough.
“It honestly felt like my wife was under house arrest,” Tom said. “We couldn’t imagine the next five months living that way.”
Although Zika wasn’t at their doorstep when they left, the attitude of other residents worried the couple.
Allison recalled getting her hair done while they were mulling the move. She heard a man in the salon boast to a friend that he didn’t care about Zika and wouldn’t take any precautions because he wasn’t a pregnant woman.
“I don’t think people realize they can be the threat,” she said. “They’re the host. They’re the ones who keep spreading it.”
The Haberstrohs have eyed Charlotte as a place to start a family for years, so this move might be more permanent than their South Florida friends would like.
“I don’t think we’d go back without the Zika vaccine,” Allison said.
“Or at least a year of zero Zika transmissions,” Tom added.
A mosquito-proof fortress
Sometimes, when she stands next to the sliding doors leading to her backyard, Lauren Allan can see mosquitoes flitting against the glass.
She sees the stripes on their legs and worries, because she knows they’re Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, the kind that carry the Zika virus. Allan, 30, is pregnant, and the mosquitoes at her door mean the first line of her defense system — a yard crisscrossed with pesticide misters — isn’t working.
But she has other fortifications against the enemy: bug zappers inside her home, a mosquito light carbon dioxide trap in her bedroom and a mosquito net over her bed.
Months before the virus spread to a new, third location in Little River, Allan confined herself to her Pinecrest home. She didn’t believe Zika mosquitoes could be contained to Wynwood and Miami Beach, as health officials initially said.
“One of those [mosquitoes] could very well be on my block,” she said.
So for the last few months, every time Allan goes outside, she suits up. She pulls on gauzy, mosquito netting bottoms over her long-sleeved pants and a baggy netted top over her long-sleeved shirt. She zips a mosquito netting hood over her face and drenches herself in insect repellent.
Public reaction to her getup has changed in recent months. She remembered the stares the first time she walked into a Chipotle restaurant with the beekeeper top on.
“You would have thought I was waving a gun in the air,” she said. Now, people stop her and ask where they can get one for their pregnant friend or relative.
Mostly, though, Allan has confined herself to her home. While her husband is at work, she keeps herself busy with remote work — she’s a realtor — and runs on her recently installed treadmill. She even gave adult coloring books a try.
The cabin fever is worth it to protect her unborn son, she said, but the waiting isn’t easy. “It leaves a lot of time to be nervous and lonely,” she said.
She’s done plenty of reading on the virus but she wishes her Facebook friends wouldn’t tag her in Zika conspiracy theory posts.
“It’s not helpful,” she said. “That’s not how I research. I don’t just hop on Google and search ‘Zika theories.’”
Allan and her husband did consider leaving, checking with friends with guest rooms in North Carolina, Philadelphia and Vermont. Ultimately, Allan prioritized comfort in a scary situation. She prefers her home, her doctors and her friends.
Together, she and her husband can turn their home into a mosquito-proof fortress to protect their baby, who’s due the day before Thanksgiving.
“It should really be about celebrating the pregnancy and enjoying the last few months as a couple,” Allan said, “but unfortunately a lot of it has fallen by the wayside to protect him.”
A test of perseverance
It’s the first thing their friends mention when they call.
“Someone new calls that we haven’t talked to in a while and the first thing they say is, ‘Oh my God, Zika,’” said Steve Berry, 38. “And it’s like, ‘whew.’”
Berry’s wife is pregnant with the couple’s first child, and their Edgewater home is right on the outskirts of the original Zika zone in Wynwood. So everyone wants to talk about Zika, but “most of the time, my wife and I want to talk about anything but,” he said.
His wife, who asked not to be named, spent two nights in Aventura and one in West Palm when the news first broke. But their jobs meant they couldn’t stay away for long, even though family and friends love to “armchair quarterback,” encouraging them to leave. Berry is co-owner of Cobaya Miami, a food blog.
“What are we supposed to do?” Berry asked. “We’re not in a position where we can just say ‘Oh, our jobs will let us go wherever we want.’”
They’re a very outdoorsy couple (their first date was playing golf) so limiting their time outside has been tough. Still, they’ve kept inside as much as possible, and they wear natural insect repellent when they venture out.
“It’s hard to not let it ruin your life,” he said.
Berry finds the constant stream of information difficult to process. He reads what the experts say, he reads what the alarmists say and “straddles the middle,” he said. But he said it’s hard to get specific information when, for example, an article mentions mothers having “complications” with the birth of Zika-positive babies.
“What’s a complication? Did she have trouble pushing the kid out or did her heart rate go nuts?” Berry said.
He worries about pesticides too, especially the aerial spraying of naled, which has been used in Wynwood and in Miami Beach. He believes there’s a link between microcephaly cases in Brazil and areas of heavy pesticide spraying.
“They’re bringing in planes to bomb Wynwood with a chemical that’s banned in 22 countries,” he said. “Now you’re taking a natural problem and you’re making it a man-made problem.”
The couple is counting down the days until they can take their newborn child outside and show him what they love about the world. Until then, Berry sees the remaining three-month wait as a test of perseverance and mental fortitude.
“After we do this, we’ll be able to walk across a volcano top, no problem,” he joked.
Worried that you have Zika? Here’s how to get tested:
Visit your doctor and arrange a test.