As of September, the Zika virus was officially on U.S. soil. The virus, which is transmitted primarily through bites from specific strains of mosquitoes and first surfaced in the Miami area, is a troublesome development for not only one of the largest tourism hubs in the country but also a region that stays warm all year.
“We’ve already seen some of the hesitancy to visit areas where there is some risk,” said Paul Curtis, manager of technical services for pest management provider Terminix International. “It certainly deserves attention, even though it’s an extremely small number of cases.”
Curtis said that Zika’s spread is expected to slow as temperatures cool, but “cool” is a relative term for southern climates. Mosquito biology is heavily affected by the climate, particularly the developmental stages of the insects as they hatch. Stan Cope, director of entomology and regulatory services for Terminix, said it takes up to two weeks for an infected mosquito to gain the ability to transmit the disease to humans.
“The warmer it is, the longer the adults live,” Cope said. “The issue is that Florida has the second highest number of infected travelers coming into the country, and it takes up to a week for symptoms to become apparent in infected individuals. So in order to be accurate we have to back up three weeks to really know when transmission is going on.”
While Zika has mostly remained in Southern Florida, Ron Harrison, technical director at pest service company Orkin, said there are other areas of the country where conditions are ripe for its development. There are 80 genus of mosquito capable of transmitting Zika, and areas with mosquitoes carrying yellow fever are primed for Zika.
“It’s a relatively tropical mosquito,” Harrison said. “In summer you will find the conditions it needs along the Eastern Seaboard, the Southeast and wet areas of the Midwest.”
Harrison said that fearing the disease is unnecessary, but safety precautions should be taken when necessary. “People are up in arms about Zika in Canada, but it won’t be a problem there,” he said. “If you are walking your dog in Georgia, put repellent on. We don’t have them there yet, but be smart about it.”
Harrison also said that not all mosquitoes are equal, and that many of them are incapable of carrying Zika. In fact, Zika is transmitted primarily by insects that operate during the daytime; nighttime bites, which are most common, have almost no chance of carrying the disease.
For Florida, a market with many destinations that live and die on the tourism trade, hotels in Orlando and Miami have taken to handing out repellent in order to calm guest fears. Curtis said that individuals have to choose for themselves whether or not to apply these products, but he personally endorses anything recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Above all, keep from getting bitten,” Curtis said. “Any decision made to aid with that is good.”