Zika Virus Unlikely to Affect Large Parts of U.S., Medical Geographer Says

Air conditioning and well-constructed buildings provide protection

There’s no reason to suspect Zika will be much different from dengue fever, and those outbreaks in the U.S. have largely been locally contained, according to Dr. Jared Aldstadt, an associate professor of geography at the University of Buffalo.

Aldstadt’s research focuses on the mosquito species that transmits Zika, dengue fever, yellow fever, and chikungunya.

“If you live in parts of Hawaii, Key West, or on the U.S.–Mexico border, it’s a concern because of the nature of the mosquito, but this is not something that is going to affect large parts of the country,” he said. “This is something the U.S. can handle. Zika is limited by the mosquito, and we are well protected with air conditioning and our well-built buildings. There is no evidence Zika will be different than dengue when it arrives occasionally in the U.S. and circulates locally for a while.”

Researchers are still gathering evidence about the link between Zika and microcephaly, Aldstadt said.

“Several infections are risk factors for birth defects,” he says. “There’s a chance that other infections are happening, too. There are a lot of other alternatives when it comes to microcephaly.” While Aldstadt is in agreement with a travel advisory for pregnant women to be safe, there could be other risk factors at play, he said.

The mosquito that transmits Zika is a domesticated one that lives in clean water, Aldstadt says. It is not usually found in the natural environment. It was a major concern during the construction of the Panama Canal because of yellow fever, and was eradicated from much of tropical America in the 1950s.

“A place like Brazil is a perfect breeding ground for the mosquito because of the rapid urbanization and the often poor-quality housing,” he says. “The risk declines significantly at the U.S. border because the better housing quality and air conditioning protects people.”

Right now, places such as Brazil should be spraying indoors where the mosquitoes live, as well as removing breeding sites, such as water-holding containers, trash, tires, and flower pots, Aldstadt said.

“People can protect themselves by wearing long sleeves and pants and can also use insecticide treatment,” he added.

Source: University of Buffalo; January 29, 2016.