The warm weather is making its way to the United States, and it’s accompanied by mosquitoes that pose the threat of Zika virus and other mosquito-borne diseases.
Following last year’s Zika outbreak, states that were hard-hit are already ramping up their efforts to prevent disease spread.
Last year, Zika was detected in pregnant women across 44 states and even led to outbreaks in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and American Samoa. The virus is known to cause neurological defects in developing fetuses and has been lined to microcephaly in babies.
According to a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released recently, one out of 10 pregnant women with Zika delivered a baby with serious birth defects, while 77 babies in the country alone died in the womb because of the virus.
Now a warm winter in many U.S. states battered by Zika could spell the survival of more of the Aedes aegypti’s eggs — the mosquito species transmitting the nasty virus.
Last week, a Senate panel approved a bill authorizing an added $100 million in grants to fight Zika. The bill, however, still needs a vote by the full Senate before summer swings by, Fox News reported.
What Hard-Hit States Are Doing
In Florida, experts feared that conditions are conducive to another Zika plague, with mosquito species more easily traveling and a warm winter giving their eggs a greater chance of hatching.
Governor Rick Scott already declared that the virus’ spread has been halted after about 1,000 Zika cases were picked up by international travelers and a separate 279 cases of infection were noted in the state.
In New York, the second worst-hit state by the virus after Florida, there were 1,021 symptomatic cases documented by the CDC. The state has already allotted $2.1 million on prevention and is still working on a budget for summer prevention.
In Florida and Texas, Zika was passed on by mosquitoes. But in New York, it was mostly due to women traveling to areas where the virus was locally transmitted, such as in Puerto Rico. The emphasis of health officials was therefore on educating women on the risks of traveling to high-risk areas.
Nearly nobody caught the Zika virus in California from a mosquito, but at least 400 were infected with the virus from January 2015 to April 26, with concerns that the bugs could soon begin spreading the disease.
The state is abuzz with mosquito control efforts, enlisting the help of Buddhist group Tzu Chi to educate about the mosquitoes in the 12 counties where the bug was spotted. Door-to-door checks focus on standing water, and pilot initiatives have released bacteria-infected male Aedes mosquitoes to hinder eggs from hatching.
“We cannot go to every single house and look for every single bottle cap,” vector ecologist Gimena Ruedas told LA Times, noting the difficulty of locating an outbreak source.
For its part, Texas is recommending all pregnant women in the six counties with Zika presence to get tested for the virus. Those with a rash and at least another symptom are urged to undergo testing as well.
After the Aedes aegypti as the primary disease vector, officials are now eyeing a second mosquito species that can potentially transmit Zika.
Commonly known as the Asian tiger mosquito, the insect was found to carry Zika virus RNA. Although the new species has not yet been confirmed to have infected anyone, it does, however, represent an important public health concern.