Up to 200 million Americans live in areas that could be impacted by the Zika virus, and the head of the World Health Organization said Thursday that the virus is “spreading explosively” in the Americas.
Regions in the US that could be impacted include the South, Midwest, the Gulf Coast and the East and West Coasts – that is, warm areas of the country where mosquitoes thrive during spring and summer.
There is no vaccine for the virus, which is tied to a condition called microcephaly that causes babies to be born with heads and brains that are too small. Women in Latin American countries have been warned they should not get pregnant. Zika also may be tied to a condition called Guillain-Barre, which can cause paralysis.
Eighty percent of the people who get Zika don’t even know they have it.
“I think we’re in for real trouble in the United States,” Peter Hotez, the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told The Washington Post.
Brazil is currently undergoing a major epidemic of Zika epidemic, which was first reported in that nation in May 2015.
Zika “will certainly come to the United States, and I think it will come fairly rapidly,” Lawrence Gostin, the director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, told USA Today.
Margaret Chan, the World Health Organization’s director-general, said the “level of concern is high, as is the level of uncertainty.”
“We need to get some answers quickly,” she said.
The Gulf Coast is the region of the US most likely to see a Zika outbreak because the Aedes aegypti mosquito — which spreads the virus — is already found there, Gostin said. Areas with stagnant water and lots of garbage will be most susceptible, as will poor neighborhoods.
“These mosquitoes have adapted very well to our throw-away society,” Michael Osterholm, the director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy told USA Today. “It’s not in the swamps, where the mosquitoes that spread malaria live. But that discarded fast food wrapper in the ditch could be a very important source of Aedes.”
Even something as seemingly harmless as trash on the side of the road can become a breeding ground for the Aedes mosquito if it gets filled with water. The mosquito can breed year-round in warm, wet places like Florida and during the spring and summer in areas further north.
Zika is likely to spread through the Americas and affect every country in the region except Canada in the far north and Chile in the south, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned.
There is also some evidence that Zika could spread through other ways, including sexual contact, WHO experts told The Guardian.
“Zika has been isolated in human semen, and one case of possible person-to-person sexual transmission has been described,” a WHO press release stated. “However, more evidence is needed to confirm whether sexual contact is a means of Zika transmission.”
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