The scientists and researchers at NASA have released maps to detail the potential spread of the Zika virus throughout the United States. The majority of areas that will be affected are in the southern states along with other major cities, including Houston. The maps were part of a recently published study that examined 50 different cities that are in the known range of the yellow fever (Aedes aegypti) mosquito. The female Aedes aegypti is a known carrier of Zika virus along with yellow and dengue fever. Scientists looked at factors including rainfall, temperature and poverty levels to plot their predictions.
As rainfall and temperatures rise, so do the chances of mosquito eggs hatching. The hottest and wettest parts of the country are at a risk of being affected during the warmest months of the year. Nearly all of the 50 cities identified in the study show a low to moderate increase in mosquitoes by June. In fact the study results were surprising when scientists realized just how far north that mosquitoes can spawn and survive.
Researchers indicate that South Florida and Texas have a moderate to high risk of the virus even in the winter months due to their naturally warm temperatures. The Texas-Mexico border is ranked as the one of the areas with the highest risk of Zika virus. In fact the Texas-Mexico border suffered an outbreak of dengue fever also spread by the Aedes aegypti in 2005 along with Key West in 2009 and 2010.
Researchers hope that this new study will bring awareness to the potential threat of Zika virus in cities that may not be aware of the risk. While Florida and Texas have an understanding and appreciation of the real threat of the yellow fever mosquito’s level for transmission of disease, many other cities may not be as fortunate.
Poverty levels also increase the risk of exposure to Zika virus, because impoverished neighborhoods are less likely to have the basic means to protect homes in the form of window and door screens. They are also more likely to have discarded items including tires and other receptacles that can collect water providing the perfect storm for mosquitoes to breed. In fact scientists at the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston predict that Zika will mostly be a Gulf Coast problem with areas of extreme poverty being the hardest hit.
Recent flooding in the areas of Houston and Mississippi’s Gulf Coast could further increase the Aedes aegypti mosquito population’s ability to breed. Once flood waters begin to recede, water will be left behind to form stagnant pockets of water. These pockets of stagnant water will create an opportunity for mosquitoes to breed in abundance and in turn increase the size of the population as the temperatures and humidity levels continue to rise.
Rain, flood water and litter are an especially unfortunate combination when it comes to the resilience of the aedes aegypti mosquito and its aggressive nature. This mosquito has adapted and made a home breeding in man-made containers including discarded tires, plastic bottle caps, and other items of various sizes. Texas Heritage Protection is actively working to educate the public in eliminating standing water sources and other methods of fighting back against these dangerous mosquitoes.