As the number of birth defect linked to a mosquito-borne virus outperforms 4,000 in Brazil, and scientists scramble to create a vaccine to safeguard against the untreatable disease, public health officials are bracing themselves for a potential outbreak in the U.S.
The threat has some advocacy groups pushing for tighter health screenings among travelers and immigrants from Zika-afflicted countries, while public health officials and tropical cancer experts argue preparing to fight the Aedes aegypti, an insect that doesnt respond to common pesticide, is more pressing.
First of all, I believe Zika will come to America, and actually I think it may be more important than the messaging were get out of Washington and[ The Center for Disease Control and Prevention ], Dr. Peter J. Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine, told FoxNews.com.
Fighting Zika may be tougher in the US than in Latin America
The Aedes aegypti the primary vector for Zika ravaged parts of Central and South America by infecting thousands with dengue fever and yellow fever between the 40 s and 60 s. But in recent years, it has struck the region again after governments discontinued a reduction endeavour that involved spraying the controversial insecticide DDT to eradicate the pest. In most places, DDT has been banned after scientists detected its chemicals can cause environmental wreckage, as well as retch, tremors and seizures among humen, as well as other life-threatening side effects.
Joe Conlon, a technological consultant at the American Mosquito Control Association, said the U.S. government would never deploy DDT for precisely those reasons.
[ DDT] s got too much emotional baggage and environmental luggage associated with it, Conlon told FoxNews.com. Anyone who would try to use it would be excoriated. We have other means to get rid of these mosquitoes.
Hotez thinks Washingtons 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 word small outbreak, which the federal government has said the U.S. could see some of among Gulf Coast states.
Zika has the ability to cause birth defects, Hotez said. 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 dont have any tolerance.
Microcephaly, a condition that causes babies to be born with partly formed brains and abnormally small heads, has been linked to Zika and has impacted nearly 4,100 children in Brazil. In the U.S ., which has reported two Zika cases that may have been sexually transmitted, at the least one child, in Hawaii, has been born with microcephaly after his or her mother traveled to a Zika-afflicted country. The CDC has advised pregnant women against traveling to more than two dozen regions in the Americas, Oceania and Africa, but it has said more proof is needed to confirm a link between the virus and microcephaly.
Hotez said conditions in many of the lower-income areas in the South mimic those of Brazil and other places that have assured a Zika outbreak. Aedes aegypti mosquitoes like to breed in pools of water that accumulate in discarded vehicle tires, flower pots, and filled drinking beakers left outdoors.
I believe all of the conditions where theyre present in Latin America and the Caribbean are also present in Texas and other Gulf Coast states, said Hotez, who predicted the number of Aedes aegypti, which already reside in this part of the U.S ., could start multiplying in March, when the climate warms up. Which means we have time[ to prepare] and nows the time to do it, he said.
But controlling the main mosquito that carries Zika may demonstrate 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. Unlike other common mosquitoes in the U.S ., they like to feed on humans during the day, which entails people who live in homes without window screens would have a high infection risk, Hotez said.
This is a day-biting mosquito, and that gets to be problematic because if youre spraying when children are out playing were going to have to make a better assessment of that, Hotez said.
Conlon said standard mosquito control practises in the U.S. wont work on the Aedes aegypti.
Down in Central and South America, theyre employing these thermal foggers that can work and knock down the mosquito, but in the U.S, theyre not going to allow federal and state folks to allow them into their homes to do that, Conlon said. Its not something that mosquito abatement will do, but public pressure may induce them do that. People might demand something like that of their own volition.
In preparation for the health risks arrival of U.S.-borne Zika cases, Hotez called on Gulf Coast municipalities to provide people with protective window screens if they dont have them.
Conlon echoed Hotez and said he expects mosquito control to lie primarily in the hands of municipalities. He called on local governments to begin spreading public awareness campaigns about the dangers of Zika and how to protect their homes and households against the Aedes aegypti.
In Texas which has seen a example of sexual transmitting and reported the first U.S. Zika case in mid-January government departments of health has prioritized such tracking and awareness campaigns, said Chris Van Deusen, spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Thats very much the discussion were having right nowmaking sure we know what the most recent science is, and watching infections to ensure where theyre occurring, and if theyre traveling from Central and South America or the Caribbean if they have gotten sick with Zika, Van Deusen told FoxNews.com.
Public informationthats our first line of defense, said Van Deusen, who added the state is working with municipalities and the CDC to educate travelers about prevention methods.
Conlon also called on the federal government to provide funding to municipalities so they could exam mosquitoes in labs, so we can identify people who are bringing that illnes into the country and marshal our resources to rapidly wipe it out, once it occurs.