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September 1, 2016: Tropical Storm Would Worsen Florida's Zika Outbreak

“Florida braced for a double whammy from Mother Nature on Thursday, with a tropical wave in the Caribbean potentially threatening to balloon into a tropical storm or hurricane just as the region fights outbreaks of the mosquito-borne Zika virus.

“While the unnamed storm could still bring rain to Florida over the next few days, by Friday the threat of it developing into a tropical storm or hurricane largely subsided. But this year’s hurricane season is only in its infancy, meaning a major tropical storm or hurricane could still spin up and threaten the region in the coming months.

“Such a storm would make it harder to control the Zika outbreak, which has grown to 43 cases in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. Zika poses the greatest threat to pregnant women and their fetuses, who can develop devastating birth defects if infected by the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Florida Gov. Rick Scott said state emergency officials were monitoring the Caribbean storm, but didn’t activate the state’s emergency operations center.

“’Our goal is to protect the pregnant women in our state and all developing babies,’ Scott told USA TODAY. ‘What we can do everyday is to get rid of standing water, wear bug repellent and make sure we have aggressive mosquito control.’

“While a tropical storm or hurricane would initially blow mosquitoes out of the sky, it could also leave behind standing water that allows the insects to breed, said Joseph Conlon, technical adviser to the American Mosquito Control Association.

“An increase in mosquitoes doesn’t necessarily lead to a spike in disease, said Jerome Goddard, an extension professor of medical entomology at Mississippi State University. That’s because the ‘nuisance’ mosquitoes that live in flooded salt marshes don’t tend to spread disease, no matter how annoying they may be.

“The mosquito species that primarily transmits Zika, the Aedes aegypti, prefers to live near people and lay eggs in man-made containers, such as bird baths, flower pots and discarded tires.

“’Lots of rain from a hurricane wouldn’t make much difference for Aedes aegypti, since they are so specialized in where they breed,’ Goddard said. ’They’re not going to breed out in the yard in a pool of water or in receding floodwaters.’

“Yet the devastation caused by a major storm could increase the risk of Zika in other ways, such as by blowing off window and door screens, Goddard said.

“A hurricane would also likely divert resources from fighting Zika, as officials focus on clearing storm damage, restoring power and helping displaced residents, Beck-Sagué said. Public health staff would have less time to diagnose Zika cases and track the source of infections.

“State and county officials would likely have to put their Zika education efforts on hold, said Sandra Whitehead, director of program and partnership development at the National Environmental Health Association.

“The system could still strengthen as it spins into the Gulf of Mexico early next week, possibly impacting the Gulf Coast.”

Source: USA Today

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