Following warnings issued by US authorities regarding Zika virus in Miami, one of Germany's leading virologists has said the disease will likely spread further than Florida. Still, this is not grounds for hysteria.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Monday, August 2, that pregnant women should avoid an area of Miami due to increased reports of Zika, asking pregnant women who have visited the Wynwood neighborhood to get tested and also warning couples who live there to put off having children.
Despite the CDC warning, Germany's Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine has said there is no grounds for hysteria. Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit is the Zika expert at the Hamburg-based institute.
DW: How serious is the situation in Miami?
Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit: This is something that we've been expecting, actually. It's no great surprise, nothing that makes us wonder. Miami is a hub for the entire region, for Central America, for South America. It was only a matter of time that Zika would arrive in Miami, or Florida, and Zika will spread further, perhaps even as far as Louisiana, where the temperatures are hospitable to the disease and where the type of mosquito that transmit it are found.
How many concrete cases of Zika have been confirmed in Miami?
Not many at all. We're talking about fewer than 20 cases at this point, but this doesn't mean that there won't be a sudden burst. And on top of that, we have to keep in mind that most cases of Zika go unreported or unregistered. Thus, there could have already been over 100 cases of Zika [in Florida], but they will go unregistered because no symptoms are felt.
If, in your opinion, this is no great surprise, could more precautions have been taken to prevent the spread north?
No. You cannot contain a disease of this nature. You can't prevent people from Mexico or Puerto Rico, Brazil, etc. from travelling to Miami. This is precisely how the disease was imported to Florida. It was a traveller who wasn't aware he or she was infected because there were no symptoms, and this person was bitten by the transmitting mosquitos. You cannot prevent this from happening.
What can be done now?
The only thing that can be done now is to try and eradicate the [aedis aegyptis] mosquitos from the area, but this is a very difficult and expensive endeavor. With no vaccine or medication currently available, the money will have to be thrown at combating the conduit of the disease: the mosquito.
According to the CDC, couples in the area should put off having chilrden at the moment. Do you agree with that?
This is justified, because it is during the first three months of pregnancy that microcephaly develops in the unborn child. This instruction is indeed very justified. And I also agree with the warning that pregnant women should avoid the area.
Is Florida - and the southern US - now dealing with a long-term public health problem?
This is not grounds for hysteria. This is very important. I repeat that we have been expecting this to happen, and there is absolutely no reason to be worried if you live in this area. Even if there is a sudden spike in cases, the prevalence of Zika will subside within the next few months.
With the end of summer?
Correct, on the one hand, when the temperatures fall, but also because the population will build antibodies that prevent further infection and inhibit any real spread. Just like in Brazil, where the majority of the people is now immune to Zika - for life - after having been infected. Once this happens, the mosquitos won't have enough humans to transmit the disease, and this will make any further spread impossible.
Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit is the Zika expert at Germany's Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine.