More than two billion people who live in “environmentally suitable” areas around the world are at risk at of being infected by the Zika Virus, a study from Oxford University in England suggests.
The team of researchers including Oxford’s Moritz Kraemer and Jane Messina concluded that the likelihood of the disease getting a foothold in vulnerable areas from the United States to China, is extremely high. The researchers combined climate data, mosquito prevalence and the socio-economic makeup of each region in the study: Mapping global environmental suitability for Zika virus.
With the state of Florida already caught up in its own mosquito eradication programme after several infections, researchers have also identified the states of Texas, sections of Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas as vulnerable.
‘Environmental suitability’ also extends to large areas of sub-Saharan Africa, to more than two million square miles of India “from its northwest regions through to Bangladesh and Myanmar”; the Indochina region, southeast China and Indonesia. The study which was published April 19 this year noted: that roughly 250,000 square miles of Australia are also at risk.
According to the researcher: “Globally, we predict that over 2.17 billion people live in areas that are environmentally suitable for ZIKV transmission”.
The researchers mapped data on the virus from its emergency in 1947 to the present and into the future. The findings indicate that a global area inhabited by 2.17 billion people is ‘highly suitable’ for the transmission of the Zika virus.
The efficiency of the mosquitoes at spreading disease in urban areas plus population densities are reportedly the main factors contributing to this estimate. The study pointed out that the Zika Virus has been isolated in 19 different species of the Aedes family, although the virus was most prevalently found in the Aedes aegypti.
Other studies into the distribution of vectors have found that the Asian Tiger Mosquito (Aedes albopictus) – which is also responsible for the spread of the Chikungunya virus -has increased its territory and can now be found in Europe. Other Aedes species have also been found to spread the Zika virus, although to fewer people.
Health authorities are scrambling to produce a vaccine as other recent studies have indicated that ZIKV could lead to more severe complications than those already identified.
The Zika virus was first identified in Uganda and is transmitted by Aedes aegyptai mosquitoes, also the vector insect for the dengue and Chikungunya viruses. Prior to an outbreak in Micronesia in 2007, the virus was only known to cause illness in Africa and parts of Asia. In 2013 it began spreading outside its usual areas until the first outbreaks in Latin America in 2015 with Brazil bearing the burden of infections.
The rapid spread of the virus raises concern that it could quickly impact vulnerable areas around the globe, leading to its declaration as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the World Health Organization.
In addition to the UK, researchers also came from several prominent universities in the USA, Canada, Sweden, Australia and Germany.
The study Mapping global environmental suitability for Zika virus is online
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