Zika threat in US lower than anticipated

The Gulf Coast faces the highest risk of local Zika virus transmission.
The Gulf Coast faces the highest risk of local Zika virus transmission.

HealthDay News — Some leading insect and infectious-disease experts think health officials in the United States are overreacting to the threat posed by the Zika virus this summer.

"I think the risk for Zika actually setting up transmission cycles that become established in the continental United States is near zero," Chris Barker, PhD, a mosquito-borne virus researcher at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine, told HealthDay. He said Zika should follow a pattern similar to other tropical diseases spread by mosquito bites, such as dengue fever and chikungunya, which have failed to gain any significant foothold in the United States.

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Much of the national concern stems from maps released recently by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that the Aedes mosquitoes can range as far north as New York, Ohio, Kansas, Missouri, and California, Laura Harrington, PhD, chair of entomology at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, told HealthDay. "They're showing this mosquito in places where there's no way you're going to find them," she said. "It's really unfortunate, because it's causing a lot of hysteria in places where people should be focusing on other health issues, like Lyme disease."

Barker and Harrington agree that Zika requires a strong public health response, but it needs to be focused on the southern states most at risk. However, CDC spokesman Tom Skinner told HealthDay that "the bottom line is no one can predict with absolute certainty what's going to happen here in the United States when it comes to local transmission of Zika virus. Many areas in the United States have the type of mosquitoes that can transmit this virus. We just can't predict with any absolute certainty what's going to happen."

For more information on the Zika virus, visit CDC.gov.

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