Friday, May 27, 2016

Zika in Hawaii

Predicted spread of Zika virus-carrying mosquito in the U.S.
When we first heard about the Zika virus we were concerned that it would quickly spread in Hawaii’s tropical climate, like dengue fever recently has on the Big Island, and become a major health issue in the state.  According to our research, the worst case scenario for Zika is pretty dire.

Zika is not only linked to the serious birth defect microcephaly (abnormally small skull), it is also linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome, an autoimmune disorder in adults that can cause paralysis. For those who are healthy and not pregnant, they may get by with no symptoms or only experience mild, flu-like symptoms.

Although the disease seems far away, we have growing concerns after the CDC reported 157 pregnant women in the U.S. have tested positive for Zika and over 300 others have been infected primarily from trips outside the county.

Unfortunately, the Zika carrying mosquito, Aedes aegypti, likes warm, wet weather like we have in Hawaii. They breed in flower pots, tires, trash and small pools of water and live in and around homes which makes traditional evening insecticide fogging from sprayers mounted on trucks useless.  The Aedes aegypti's eggs can even dry out and cling to surfaces and come back to life during the next rain. The Aedes requires indoor and outdoor spraying and both the adult insects and larvae have to be killed to get rid of it. 

The virus has already spread rapidly on the tropical island of  Puerto Rico and is expected to reach the southern U.S. states as their warm, wet weather arrives. Although, the Zika carrying mosquito, Aedes aegypti, is not common in the northern states, like New York, they have, Aedes albopictus, another mosquito thought capable of carrying Zika. If we get warm, wet weather this year, much of the U.S. population may be affected by the virus.

Thus far congress has not provided the $2B funds requested by President Obama to protect against a Zika epidemic.  State funds are short for mosquito spraying and the Aedes requires high-touch, door-to-door spraying to eradicate. The concentration of people from all over the world in Brazil this summer for the Olympics has many concerned that it will even more rapidly spread the Zika virus world-wide.

So far, the only victims of the Zika virus in Hawaii contracted it outside the state. At this point it seems likely that the virus will spread to the U.S. mainland before Hawaii. But if the virus spreads as predicted, it is only a matter of time before it gets to Hawaii and much of the rest of the world with potentially catastrophic effects to us all.