Friday, May 06, 2016

Gulf Coast, especially rural towns, is ill-prepared for impending arrival of Zika virus

Rural areas along the Gulf Coast are ill-prepared for the Zika virus, which could arrive in the region within the next few weeks, "carried here by travelers and spread by local mosquitoes," Liz Szabo reports for USA Today. "The Gulf Coast's steamy climate, abundant mosquitoes and international airports create an environment ripe for the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which has spread to 37 countries and territories in the Americas. The disease causes devastating birth defects and is linked to paralysis and other serious complications."

Scott Weaver, director of the Institute for Human Infections and Immunity at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, said "smaller, more rural and 'some poor communities in the region have virtually nothing available' in terms of mosquito control," Szabo writes. Arturo Rodriguez, public health director of the border town Brownsville, Texas, where thousands of people cross the border every day, told Szabo, "We literally have to fight this issue on our own. We have to bootstrap ourselves." The virus was detected in Mexico in November.

Southern states are most susceptible to the virus, said Cheryl Clay, public health senior environmentalist in Madison County, Alabama, Kym Klass reports for the Montgomery Advertiser. "There have been 67 investigations and three confirmed cases this year of travel-related cases of the Zika virus in Alabamians—positive specimens were confirmed from Jefferson, Shelby and Morgan counties—and state officials have increased its efforts to ensure the safety of its residents. As of April 27, there have not been any locally acquired vector-borne cases reported in the U.S. From Jan. 1, 2015, through April 27, there were 426 travel-associated Zika virus disease cases that have been reported." (USA Today map: Zika cases by state)
Local newspapers are asking local officials what they're doing about mosquitoes. Jacob Thomas of the Kentucky New Era in Hopkinsville surveyed local governments in the paper's three-county circulation and coverage area to see what they're doing or planning.

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