Miami-Dade mayoral hopeful Alfred Santamaria hit the campaign trail in Wynwood Tuesday, and had something impressive to offer: a spray he said could "neutralize" Zika effects from a mosquito bite.
"If you put this product on the bite of a mosquito it will neutralize the effect of the Zika," Santamaria told reporters while holding a thumb-sized bottle of Zycazin. "This is a protection... So we're giving it out."
If a spray exists to treat Zika, that would be news to the Florida Department of Health. Spokeswoman Mara Gambineri wrote in a brief statement: "According to the CDC, there is no specific medicine or treatment for Zika."
Santamaria, 36, and a one-time staffer for former Rep. David Rivera, is running his first campaign for political office. He drew a sizable media crowd for his afternoon stop in Wynwood, with aides distributing Zika protest signs to supporters as he began his remarks to the press. Wynwood remains under a travel advisory for pregnant women, following the discovery of what state authorities said was a Zika transmission area in late July.
Cameras followed him as he and others knocked on nearby doors and passed out small packages of Zycazin. The product is distributed by a Coconut Grove firm called Axis Healthcare, which has the same address and a shared corporate officer as Good Sound, a recording studio that donated $255,000 to Santamaria's New Leadership political committee. Most of that was listed as free production services.
Leon Atencia, who identified himself as a biochemist for Axis Healthcare and a partner, said the product mirrors other over-the-counter antiseptic sprays already on the market. "There's nothing new," he said.
What's different, he said, is the claim that the ingredients might be useful in reducing the severity of a Zika infection. Atencia pointed to a study he said his firm conducted in Colombia, but said he could not share the results because they are confidential. Atencia said Santamaria misspoke when he said Zycazin could neutralize the effects of Zika.
Zycazin does not mention Zika on its packaging. Its active ingredient, camphorated phenol, is used to relieve pain and itching on the skin, including from bug bites, according to consumersafety.org. The package describes Zycazin as an "antiseptic liquid" that can be used for "temporary relief of pain and itching associated with" bites, sunburn and minor cuts.
Axis Healthcare staffers joined Santamaria for his Wynwood event. The candidate's well-covered pitch for Zycazin comes as Axis is ramping up its marketing efforts of a product that Atencia said will be on Miami shelves as soon as next week.
On Aug. 6, a Leon Atencia posted a question in the comments section of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention blog post about Zika protection. It read: "In several countries in Latin America, a product called Zycazin, a lineament, marketed by Axis HealthCare, a US company operating out of Miami is being used for infectious mosquito bites in pandemic regions...Why I cannot find this product in the US pharmacies?"
Atencia confirmed the post came from Axis, but not from him. "That was a comment put there by the people doing the marketing campaign," he said. "I asked them to withdraw that statement."