The Zika virus is spreading at alarming proportions and more and more positive cases are confirmed across the United States each day. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the virus has the potential to infect more than 4 million individuals across the continent in the next year alone. Outbreaks of Zika have been confirmed in areas of Africa, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands and the Americas. While the virus has been detected in the United States, to date there is no evidence to support that the virus has begun to spread from local transmission, but many experts agree that it is just a matter of time. In fact many scientists believe that the Gulf Coast is particularly vulnerable, especially Houston which is one of the largest cities along with being demographically diverse.
Many populated areas in downtown Houston are working class neighborhoods that are run-down and in disrepair. Broken window screens, old sofas, tires and a myriad array of abandoned household items are piled high in the streets. Evictions are common as blue collar workers struggle to make ends meet. Those lucky enough to own their own home often find their housing dilapidated with broken or missing window screens and poor drainage along with many areas and objects containing standing water all of which create the perfect storm for mosquitoes to breed and spread the Zika virus.
Both the yellow fever mosquito (aedes aegypti) and the Asian tiger mosquito (aedes albopictus) are responsible for the spread of the Zika virus and are found throughout the world including the United States. The yellow fever mosquito is particularly aggressive and is active during the day as well as the early evening. The yellow fever mosquito and the Asian tiger mosquito breed in standing water including tires, flowerpots, trash cans and pet water bowls. Studies indicate that local control is not particularly effective since it is difficult to access all breeding areas. Of particular concern is the mosquito’s ability to evolve and live in close proximity to humans and further replicate in tiny amounts of water including over turned hub caps.
Symptoms of Zika virus are generally mild and include fever, joint pain, rash, and conjunctivitis which last anywhere from several days to a week. According to health officials, many patients have no symptoms at all. The danger lies in the fact that the virus can be transmitted from pregnant mothers to their babies and has been linked to brain damage in thousands of new borns, in fact Brazil has reported some 3,893 cases of microcephaly, a birth defect that results in babies being born with abnormally small heads. The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently stated that a baby born in Hawaii to a mother who lived in Brazil is the first child born in the United States with microcephaly that has been linked to Zika.
The yellow fever mosquito has called the state of Texas home for many years and has been the culprit for passing on many diseases including dengue fever which has been linked to several deaths. A study in 2013 establishes that dengue has been spreading in Houston for many years. In 2014, chikungunya, which is also spread by the yellow fever mosquito and is known to cause severe joint pain, was found in Austin and Houston. Researchers believe that travel, climate change including warm weather and the effects of El Nino along with the devastating effects of poverty are the main culprits for the spread of many of these vector borne pathogens.
Tropical diseases are known to thrive in low income neighborhoods like those along the Gulf Coast. Many residents do not have access to air conditioning and often rely on minimal health care. It is common for residents to live with un-diagnosed and untreated illnesses because of lack of money. Houston is perfectly suited to allow viruses such as Zika to flourish. Both species of mosquito that are known to transmit the Zika virus along with the warm weather that will begin in April and May combined with poverty and environmental influences are the perfect conduit to make the Gulf Coast particularly susceptible to the Zika Virus. The disturbing reality is that the devastating impact of the Zika virus will not be seen until infected mothers give birth to babies with birth defects. Now is the time to be proactive. Partner with Texas Heritage Protection to raise awareness, educate and develop strategic plans to remove mosquito breeding grounds such as abandoned tires and other containers that hold standing water.