- Jose Cabezas/Reuters
Summer is within reach.
But apart from the excitement of seeing more sun and warmer thermometers, there’s also a growing concern about a summer staple: the mosquito.
The Aedes aegypti mosquitoes is of particular concern. They’re the main transmitter of Zika virus and are typically found in the southernmost part of the US.
Unfortunately, though, people in the US aren’t worried about Zika yet, and that’s a problem when it comes to funding programs aimed at preventing a crisis.
“It’s hard to get people to invest in it until there’s a crisis.” CDC Director Tom Frieden said at Friday’s Zika Action Plan Summit, stressing that state and local agencies should be preparing for the possibility of mosquitoes transmitting Zika in the US this summer.
At that point, it might be too late to set up any meaningful prevention measures.
Take Miami, for example. The New York Times reported that Miami-Dade County has had 32 cases of Zika brought in from returning travelers. At the same time, the mosquito control program only has a staff of 17, much less than surrounding counties that are far less populous. And with A. aegypti larvae already popping up in standing water, it doesn’t bode well for the coming summer months.
Right now, Zika is being transmitted via mosquitoes in the US territories of Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and American Samoa. Sexual transmission has also occurred in the US, but there’s yet to be local transmission of the disease via mosquito.
The CDC has anticipated that Zika may eventually make its way into American mosquitoes. In the past, they’ve said they expect it to play out like previous outbreaks of dengue and chikungunya, which have been relatively contained to southeastern states in the US.
However, more recent estimates suggest a more widespread distribution of A. aegypti along the entire southern border of the US and extending up toward Maryland, Kentucky, and West Virginia.
Once infected with the Zika virus, only about 20% of people ever show symptoms, which most commonly include fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. There is no vaccine or treatment available for the virus. One reason Zika is troubling is because it has been linked withbirth defects in babies whose mothers have had Zika symptoms and a neurological condition called Guillain-Barré Syndrome.
In some ways, the US is particularly well-equipped to handle a Zika outbreak. Most Americans have amenities like air conditioning and window screens, and most urban areas in the US are less densely populated urban than some of the most crowded parts of South and Central America. So it isn’t entirely surprising that Congress has not approved the almost $2 billion emergency funding to combat the virus through mosquito control programs, vaccine research and other public health services.
Still, without the funding, the CDC could have a hard time tackling locally-distributed Zika. Which is why CDC Director Tom Frieden took to Twitter recently to urge people to support the plan: