Poor, urban parts of the Gulf Coast are most likely to be hit by Zika, says an expert

Poor urban areas in major cities through the Gulf Coast face the highest risk of local Zika virus transmission, according to a leading expert.

Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told INSIDER that certain pockets of Texas, Louisiana, and Florida are likely to see an outbreak of the virus.

“Since this is an urban mosquito, urban centres in those three states [are the most at risk],” he said.

Hotez explained that those areas include neighbourhoods in Houston and Galveston, Texas; New Orleans, Louisana; and Tampa, Orlando, and Miami, Florida.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the virus, thrives in poorer urban areas because they often have less trash pickup and inadequate window screens, Hotez told INSIDER.

“From everything we’ve seen with Zika, it seems to be the poorer areas that are the most at-risk,” Hotez said. “These are the mosquitoes that live in old discarded TV sets, plastic containers and tires.”

The Zika virus has ravaged Latin America and the Caribbean over the past year, with 47 countries and territories reporting new Zika virus outbreaks since 2015. Another 14 have reported ongoing transmissions since 2007.

The virus is known to cause a severe birth defect called microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains, and has also been linked to autoimmune disorders in adults.

Experts have warned that the Aedes aegypti will start transmitting the virus within the US any day now.

Scientists have also cautioned that it could already be circulating throughout Gulf Coast undetected, since only 20% of adults with the virus exhibit any symptoms, which include fever and rash.

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