The threat the Zika virus poses to Americans is more serious than the federal government claims, according to at least one mosquito expert.
“First of all, I think Zika will come to America, and actually I think it may be more important than the messaging we’re getting out of Washington and [The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention],” Dr. Peter J. Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine, told Fox News.
In an article exclusively written for CNN, Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), assessed Zika’s threat to the United States.
Dr. Frieden noted that travelers returning to the United States from Zika-afflicted places have been infected by the virus, including a woman in Hawaii who delivered a baby with microcephaly, a neurological disorder that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads and developmental problems.
Microcephaly and Guillain-Barré, a rare syndrome that causes the immune system to damage nerve cells, leading to muscle weakness and even paralysis, have been linked to Zika virus infections.
The woman in Hawaii delivered the baby with the neurological disorder after she contracted the virus in Brazil, the country most afflicted by Zika.
“We will certainly see more travelers returning to the United States with Zika after being infected in parts of the world where the virus is spreading,” wrote Frieden. “But the big question many people have is whether Zika will spread widely within the United States.”
“So we do expect, unfortunately, that Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands could have many infections with the Zika virus, and we will certainly see U.S. travelers returning with Zika infections, just as we saw travelers returning with dengue and chikungunya infections,” he added. “We could see isolated cases and small clusters of infections in other parts of the country where the mosquito is present. But from the information we know now, widespread transmission in the contiguous United States appears to be unlikely.”
The CDC has advised pregnant women against traveling to 30 countries and territories in the Americas, Oceania, and Africa, but it has said more evidence is needed to confirm the relationship between the virus and microcephaly.
Dr. Hotez from the Baylor College of Medicine noted that the Zika-carrying mosquitoes, Aedes aegypti, can be found in Texas and other Gulf Coast states, adding that the insect is likely to start multiplying in March when the region warms up.
The mosquito expert indicated that the federal government is downplaying Zika’s threat to the United States.
“Hotez thinks Washington’s take on the current Zika virus outbreak in Latin America may be a matter of nuance, but that he takes issue with the implication of the term ‘small outbreak,’ which the federal government has said the U.S. could see some of among Gulf Coast states,” reports Fox News.
“Zika has the ability to cause birth defects,” explained Hotez. “By saying ‘small outbreaks’ are going to affect Florida and Texas, are we saying we can tolerate small outbreaks of microcephaly in these states? I would say, ‘No, we don’t have any tolerance.’”
Conditions in many of the lower-income areas in the South mirror those of the countries and territories that are currently seeing a Zika outbreak, including Brazil, according to the Baylor dean.
The Zika-carrying mosquitoes are likely to “breed in pools of water that accumulate in discarded car tires, flower pots, and filled drinking cups left outdoors,” notes Fox News.
“I believe all of the conditions where they’re present in Latin America and the Caribbean are also present in Texas and other Gulf Coast states,” said Hotez.
“Which means we have time [to prepare] — and now’s the time to do it,” he added.
However, Dr. Hotez and Joe Conlon, a technical adviser at the American Mosquito Control Association, believe that combating Zika may be tougher in the United Sates than in Latin America.
“Controlling the main mosquito that carries Zika may prove more challenging in the U.S. than in Latin America, where governments are going into homes and spraying walls with pesticide, Hotez and Conlon said,” reports Fox News “Unlike other common mosquitoes in the U.S., they like to feed on humans during the day, which means people who live in homes without window screens would have a high infection risk,” Hotez said.
Moreover, Conlon noted that the Aedes aegypti mosquito will not respond to the standard mosquito control practices employed in the United States.
The threat against Americans posed by Zika has driven some advocacy groups to push for tighter health screenings among travelers and immigrants from Zika-afflicted countries, Fox News reports.