United States Prepares For Zika Virus Risk This Summer

A recent study revealed that many United States cities will become favorable for possible local Zika virus outbreaks during peak summer months. Because of the extreme heat in many southern states, Tampa, Miami, and Orlando (all Florida), and Brownsville, Texas, are highly conditioned to house the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is the carrier of the virus in much of Latin America and the Caribbean.

“This research can help us anticipate the timing and location of possible Zika virus outbreaks in certain U.S. cities,” said lead author of the study Andrew Monaghan from U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

Wintertime weather in the United States, apart from Texas and Southern Florida, make it impossible for the Aedes aegypti mosquito to survive. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 49 cases have been reported in Florida and 19 in Texas as of March, 2016. This number is likely to change as the weather changes.

“While there is much we still don’t know about the dynamics of Zika virus transmission, understanding where the Aedes aegypti mosquito can survive in the US and how its abundance fluctuates seasonally may help guide mosquito control efforts and public health preparedness,” Monaghan noted.

Researchers have created specialized computer simulations that compare United States conditions to those of its indigenous nature. The simulations show the East Coast as far as New York City and across the southern tier as far as Phoenix and Los Angeles carry conditions ripe for the Zika virus survival.

These results have been published in PLOS Currents: Outbreaks.

Monaghan notes that a widespread of the Zika virus is unlikely because of the cultivation of our country. The majority of American’s life and work in air-conditioned homes and offices which limits exposure to the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

The Zika virus has not impacted the United States as it has in Brazil, Venezuela, and El Salvador because its cases have originated abroad or spread through sexual activity. However, the United States concern is that the Aedes aegypti mosquito will infect the Asian tiger mosquito, which is more common in the U.S. If that happens, we could see infections by the millions like Central and South America.

In those regions, the Zika virus has said to be responsible for microcephaly, a birth defect that causes shrunken head and incomplete brain development. Although rare in the United States, state birth defect records show that microcephaly ranges from about 2 babies per 10,000 live births to about 12 babies per 10,000 live births a year.

There is no vaccine to prevent Zika virus, but preventative measures exist. While traveling to countries where Zika virus is common, wear long sleeved shirts and pants, stay in places with air conditioning, and use insect repellent.

With the modernization of the United States, insect repellent is an important in aid in preventing mosquito bites.

“We’re doing anything you can imagine,” said Kelly Semrau, spokeswoman for SC Johnson, the maker of Off and Raid products. “We’ve seen what has happened in Latin America; we are preparing for the eventuality that it will be here.”

The CDC recommends insect repellents with the chemical DEET, with a concentration level of 20 percent or more. The higher the percentage, the longer it protects against bites. DEET is, say, for pregnant women who are at greater risk of contracting the disease.

Health officials say 80 percent of individuals affected by Zika virus do not get sick, rather develop only mild symptoms. The most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Other symptoms include headaches and muscle pain. These symptoms are likely to last from a couple of days to a week.

Symptoms are mild so many people do not seek medical attention and many remain undiagnosed. Once infected, re-occurrence is unlikely. The Zika virus is contracted through bites from an infected mosquito and through sexual contact.

[Photo by Felipe Dana/AP Images]