Ann Scott, the wife of Florida's governor, owns a Zika mosquito spraying business.
Collected via the Internet, August 2016
In August 2016, multiple reports emerged that Ann Scott, the wife of Florida governor Rick Scott, either owned a mosquito spraying company outright, or owned a major stake in one. The rumor has added fuel to emerging conspiracy theories that Zika is either a hoax, or that it was purposely introduced into the United States to distract from national politics.
However, the Zika virus is not only real, but it is making inroads into the United States (and beyond) as travelers bearing the disease arrive within its borders, despite safety warnings. Zika is just one of the millions of viruses and bacteria that mutate and can quickly spread, potentially bringing a pandemic to the world on the level of the bubonic plague, or, more recently, the 1918 influenza outbreak.
Diseases can appear or mutate seemingly out of nowhere, and technological advances can bring about unforeseen consequences, as researcher and writer Laurie Garrett detailed in her 1994 book, The Coming Plague. In one chapter, Garrett writes about an outbreak of a mysterious disease that sickened more than 200 attendees of the 1976 American Legion convention at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, eventually killing 25 people. It was dubbed the “Philly Killer” at first, then Legionnaire’s Disease — and traced back to bacteria breeding in the hotel’s air conditioning system:
Armed with such observations, medical historian Robert Hudson of the University of Kansas closed the international gathering on a particularly frightening note. After describing the Black Death plague of medieval Europe, Hudson warned that “when we grant our existing knowledge of microscopic pathogens is deficient, we necessarily grant the possibility at least of the returns of a return of the great epidemics of the past…. the possibility exists that a deadly and common organism could emerge that is easily spread from person to person and that might be aloof to all available therapeutic and preventive methods.”
“The Philadelphia event remains unsettling because it shows the very real limitations of our tools for investigating an apparently new microbial disease,” Hudson concluded. “If we are to retain public confidence in the face of some future serious epidemic, it is important that our limitations remain widely understood. As a medical community, there is no cause to be humiliated by the Legionnaire’s affair, but it is altogether proper that we be humbled.”
Chagrined by the events of 1976, the U.S. public health community looked to the future, for the first time in the late twentieth century, with a vague sense of unease.
That unease has persisted as the world has become far more interconnected and travel has become much more commonplace within a single generation. In the case of Zika, the virus is spread by mosquitos. Although it was first detected in 1947, the disease didn’t become a global issue until 2015. According to Dr. Amy Vittor of the University of Florida, the modern world has created a fertile breeding ground for Zika (and other mosquito-borne pathogens) to thrive:
We found that deforestation followed by agriculture and regrowth of low-lying vegetation provided a much more suitable environment for the malaria mosquito carrier than pristine forest.
Increasing urbanization and poverty create a fertile environment for the mosquitoes that spread dengue by creating ample breeding sites. In addition, climate change may raise the temperature and/or humidity in areas that previously have been below the threshold required for the mosquitoes to thrive.
The second layer is the introduction of the mosquito vector. Aedes aegyptiand Aedes albopictus have expanded their geographic range in the past few decades. Urbanization, changing climate, air travel and transportation, and waxing and waning control efforts that are at the mercy of economic and political factors have led to these mosquitoes spreading to new areas and coming back in areas where they had previously been eradicated.
In other words, if it’s not Zika, there will be something else waiting in the wings, and to work in public health is to constantly be aware of potential pandemics. As cynical as it may sound, the upswing in insect-borne illnesses like Zika means there’s money in mosquito eradication — a lot of it. The financial industry, always looking for the next place to invest, naturally landed on pest control, an industry that has shown “substantial growth” since 2014:
The pest control market has shown a substantial growth in the recent year. The need for hygienic and pest free environment has boosted the need and demand for pest control services. NOVONOUS estimates that Global Pest Control Services market will grow at a CAGR [compound annual growth rate] of 5.52% by 2020.
That means that investment companies will show pest control services in their portfolios. According to a 17 August 2016 article in FloridaBulldog.org, an independent nonprofit news organization that covers the state, Ann Scott has a large financial stake in a pest control company out of Louisiana (“Mosquito Control Services LLC”) through a private investment firm that she co-owns:
Ann Scott’s large stake in MCS is via G. Scott Capital Partners, an investment firm that boasts $291 million of client assets. The firm manages several private equity funds and various “family accounts primarily comprised of trusts and family entities,” according to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission records.
The Florida Bulldog reported in 2014 that Scott Capital, as it is known online, is operated by a trio of men who once worked at Richard L. Scott Investments, the private equity firm where Gov. Scott made millions for himself and his family putting together big-money investment deals when he was in the private sector.
Scott Capital posts its portfolio online. All nine listed companies are current and former investments of the governor and/or Mrs. Scott, including Mosquito Control Services, described as providing “mosquito abatement services primarily to municipalities.”
The rumors bear a striking similarity to a story about the Scotts owning (or having a financial interest in) a drug-testing company, which came to light at the same time that the state decided to test the urine of welfare recipients and state workers, at their own expense:
All these changes could benefit that $62 million investment, but Scott sees no legal conflict between his public role and private investments.
And, experts say, under Florida law he is correct.
A few days before he took office in January, Scott moved his shares in Solantic Corp., a chain of 32 urgent care centers, to the Frances Annette Scott Revocable Trust. Scott co-founded Solantic in 2001 and was involved in its operation until last year. His wife’s trust now holds enough stock in the private company to control it.
While the ethical considerations of the Scotts owning any financial stake in either Solantic or MCS (and the strong, but mysteriously obscure links they have to the investment firm) is a topic that would perhaps benefit from much more discussion and transparency, it is inaccurate to say that Ann Scott outright owns a Zika mosquito spraying company, as some headlines would have you believe — or that Zika is either a hoax or a conspiracy.
Its appearance in the United States’ national consciousness, much like Ebola’s in 2014, can be attributed to a strong and media-savvy public health sector trying to raise awareness and alarms before a problematic but still relatively rare disease (which has been linked to everything from microcephaly and other congenital brain abnormalities to Guillain-Barré syndrome) becomes an outright, explosive pandemic.