Warmer months are coming and, whether we like it or not, this year they are going to be all about mosquitoes and the Zika virus. And this is perfectly understandable. By now, American people have heard all about the many cases of Zika virus causing microcephaly and other birth defects in fetuses whose mothers had been infected by the virus during pregnancy. They are scared. They know very well that mosquitoes are bound to return to U.S. once it gets warmer.
Experts from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) joined forces with people from the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and they analyzed copious amounts of data on climate, air travel, mosquito breeding patterns and socioeconomic status of various parts of U.S. in order to come up with a map showing which American cities will be at the greatest risk of experiencing Zika outbreaks over the coming months.
As you might have guessed, the southern and especially southeastern part of the country will be most at risk. Florida in particular will be at risk, with areas in and around major cities such as Miami, Orlando and Jacksonville being potential hotbeds for outbreaks. The rest of the Gulf coast will also be at risk, while on the Atlantic coast, the risk will diminish as we go north. Still, cities all the way up to New York City are going to be at increased risk.
California may also be affected, all the way up to Sacramento, while the northern-most cities at risk in the rest of the country (except for the East Coast) will be Salt Lake City, Denver, Kansas City, St. Louis and Louisville. Everything below these cities is in the zone of at least some risk.
Similar projects were also done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research entomologist Harry Savage. His results were pretty much the same, pointing out Florida, Texas, California, New Mexico, Arizona and Louisiana as states most at risk. A city that would otherwise not be at such a great risk is Houston whose authorities will need to be very careful due to the number of flights incoming to it from countries that are already affected by the Zika outbreak.
Director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on Public Health Law & Human Rights, Lawrence Gostin has also added that we can also expect to see a pronounced divide between neighborhoods that are well off and those that are not. People who cannot afford air conditioning or screens on windows will be at greater risk. The have-nots will also be at greater risk due to less awareness of the problem. Certain conditions that can be observed in lower economic neighborhoods might also play a role, such as standing water collecting in garbage areas.
There is some good news, however and it also comes from the mouth of Mr. Gostin. Namely, he pointed out that the culture and the way of life in the United States will most probably make any Zika outbreaks that happen localized, meaning that they will probably not venture out of affected neighborhoods.
Mosquito expert from the University of Florida, Phil Lounibos said that certain parts of the U.S. where the “Caribbean lifestyle” is widespread, such as Key West might also be at greater risk due to the large number of homes without air conditioning and window screens. In related news, Orkin, one of the country’s leading pest control companies has issued their list of American cities with the largest relative number of customer served for mosquito-related problems in 2015.
Atlanta is once again leading the pack, with Chicago, Washington, D.C., Detroit and New York City following suit. Their map resembles the NCAR’s one very much and it is very clear that this is solid data which should make authorities take heed. The last thing we need to see in the following 12 months are cases of babies who were born with deformities and whose problems could have been avoided by putting the money where it needs to be put.
For one, the Congress needs to hurry up and approve president Obama’s supplemental funding of Zika. Also, individual states need to do come up with comprehensive plans on how to protect their citizens. Something needs to be done.