The Zika virus has found its way to the continental United States. Florida is experiencing its own outbreak at the moment, although it is a bit too early to tell how rapidly or widely it will spread. According to NPR, there are only 37 cases reported as of late August. However, that number alone isn’t enough to tell how severe the situation really is. Many people who are carrying the Zika virus don’t actually know they have it— 80% of those infected are asymptomatic. In fact, according to computer scientist Alessandro Vespignani, the estimated detection rate of Zika hovers around just 5 percent.
But because of the confirmed cases, the CDC has issued a travel warning. Pregnant women, or those trying to get pregnant, are advised to avoid the Miami-Dade area. And all people that do make the trip, are encouraged to cover up— which is something of an issue when most tourists choose Miami because it’s a beach town. The number of infected is projected to rise, though, despite cooler temperatures tempering mosquito populations. The reason? College! Thousands of students will converge for classes again, swelling the population— and available sources of nutrients for female mosquitos.
While not known to be deadly, it probably most known for its connection with microcephaly, a birth defect that results in a smaller than usual head and severe neurological impairment. Most recently, scientists have found that there may be neurological consequences for infected adults, too.
We’re still trying to find a long term solution to eliminate Zika. One interesting method, profiled in a feature for Wired, involves releasing hundreds of thousands of male mosquitoes infected with the Wolbachia bacteria into Zika hotspots. While fighting mosquitoes with more mosquitoes seems counterintuitive, it could work. Once the infected males and the Zika carrying females mate, the bacteria prevents the eggs from hatching. It’s currently being explored in Clovis, California. Perhaps this method will spread elsewhere.