So far there have been some isolated cases of Americans returning from Latin America with the Zika virus, the disease spread by mosquitoes.
But since most of the U.S. is experiencing winter weather, which is not conducive to the insects, Americans haven't had to worry too much about the virus.
That will change with the arrival of spring, says Richard Duhrkopf, associate professor of biology in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences. Duhrkopf, considered a national expert on mosquitoes, says the threat of Zika virus is very real for the U.S.
“Since we are in February, we will not see any viral transmission immediately, but as the weather warms up and there is a greater flow of the virus into the country, I am confident we will see transmission this summer,” Duhrkopf said in a release.
Zika has been a major crisis in countries like Brazil. The effects of the virus on most people is fairly mild. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis, or red eyes.
Threat to pregnant women
The greater threat is to pregnant women. There have been cases of neurological disorders and birth defects in Brazil due to virus. On Monday, the World Health Organization declared the virus to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
As to the overall threat, Duhrkopf said Zika is in some ways less serious than West Nile or dengue. Then again, it could be a much more serious threat to pregnant women because of what has been observed in Brazil. Duhrkopf says that appears to be a new development in the disease.
“Zika virus has been around and transmitted in Africa and Asia for about a decade,” he said. “There have been no reports of the kinds of birth complications we are seeing in Brazil. So, we really don’t know what to make [of] them.”
Duhrkopf said he is troubled by some of the misinformation that is being spread about Zika. He said a report that the U.S. is not threatened because the type of mosquitoes spreading the disease are not found here is totally untrue.
Zika mosquitoes common in the U.S.
“We have Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus throughout the state of Texas, and both are well distributed throughout – especially the southern parts of the country,” he said.
Rebekah Kading, an assistant professor at Colorado State University, says the Aedes aegypti is known as the "rat" of the mosquito world, and is the main culprit spreading the virus. It prefers warmer climates but spreads easily. It also loves to bite people.
"Aedes aegypti is known to feed more frequently, which leads to more virus transmission," she said.”
With the arrival of warm weather, consumers should use insect repellant and consider using one with DEET, which experts say provides the best protection against mosquitoes.
Kading also recommends dumping water standing in containers in or near your home and wearing long sleeves and pants if you're spending extended time outdoors.