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Friday, June 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Study Finds Deep South and East Ripe for Zika

(CN) - Major U.S. cities may be at risk for Zika virus outbreaks this summer, according to a study released Thursday by the National Science Foundation.

The findings suggest that cities like Miami, New York and New Orleans are at particular risk, after experts from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado measured the likelihood that the virus could spread within the United States.

Active transmission of the virus is occurring in at least 30 nations within the Caribbean and Latin America.

Researchers reviewed the travel patterns of individuals who either live in, or recently visited, nations experiencing outbreaks and compared these statistics against warmer areas within the United States, which are at greater risk for experiencing active local transmission.

"This research highlights the complex set of human and environmental factors that determine whether a mosquito-borne disease is carried from one area to another, and how severely it affects different human populations, Sarah Ruth, program director for the National Science Foundation's Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, said.

Summer weather conditions will also enable the Aedes aegypti mosquito - the primary carrier of Zika - to spread and reproduce, particularly along the East Coast and across Southern states.

The combination of these factors highlights the need for large cities to review their vector-control programs, and develop strategies for stopping the spread of Zika before it becomes a more significant risk in a few months.

Researchers used computer simulations for 50 cities to determine their risks of experiencing a Zika outbreak.

The researchers' findings indicate that the warmer weather will allow the Aedes aegypti mosquito to spread throughout states in the South and East Coast, particularly affecting less affluent areas.

Among the most at-risk cities are Miami, Orlando, Houston and New York.

Florida has a significant population of the mosquito already, and residents within several metropolitan areas routinely travel between the Sunshine State and Latin America and the Caribbean. Miami has the highest risk overall, according to the study.

The city has 30 confirmed cases of Zika infection already, while all of Florida has 66 as of Thursday.

Winter temperatures are generally too low to support Aedes aegypti populations along most of the East Coast. But warmer weather during the summer could allow the mosquito to expand its presence dramatically.

"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 U.S. and how its abundance fluctuates seasonally may help guide mosquito-control efforts and public-health preparedness," Andrew Monaghan, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and lead author of the study, said.

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