High risk areas for Zika virus identified in the United States

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Researchers from Saint Louis University (MO, USA) have determined the hot spots for Zika virus transmission in the United States. Their findings recently published in the American Journal of Public Health, suggest the southern states are most at risk.

The recent outbreak of Zika virus has led to an increased threat of birth defects in babies if their mothers contract the disease during pregnancy. For that reason this group of researchers set to identify the areas of the United States most at risk of transmission.

“The purpose of this study was not to create unwarranted alarm, but rather to enhance Zika prevention methods such as mosquito control, effective prevention message dissemination and treatment and care preparation, in advance of a Zika epidemic in the contiguous US,” commented lead author Enbal Shacham (Saint Louis University).

The group looked at 3108 counties in the USA, assessing each for the following factors: the presence of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes; high rates of sexually transmitted infections, which reflects on the number of individuals practicing unprotected sex; the number of women at child bearing age and the estimated birth rates for each county.

They identified 507 ‘high risk’ areas which were concentrated in the southern states, reaching the Atlantic coast and Southern California. The highest estimated risk was in Mississippi counties.

The results from these studies have highlighted the need for intervention measures.  Shacham explained: “We need significant planning and prevention in areas and populations most likely to experience the highest burdens from Zika infection. Timely strategies to communicate risk, control mosquito populations and prevent disease transmission are imperative to preventing a large-scale Zika epidemic in the United States.

“Enhanced vector control, Zika surveillance and clinical management in these higher-risk areas will be critical for reducing the impact of a sustained Zika virus outbreak that may potentially occur particularly among economically challenged populations and communities that are least equipped to handle an outbreak,” Shacham added.

Sources: Shacham E, Nelson EJ, Hoft DF, Schootman M, Garza A. Potential High-Risk Areas for Zika Virus Transmission in the Contiguous United States. Am. J. Public Health. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2017.303670 (2017) (Epub ahead of print); www.slu.edu/news/2017/march/predicted-zika-hot-spots.php

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