Having already battered Haiti, Hurricane Matthew is now barreling up Florida's east coast. According to the Weather Channel, the storm may "deliver the strongest, most destructive winds anyone in parts of the northeast and east-central Florida coast has seen in their lifetime."
And its impact is likely to be felt long after it has died away. That's the case with any storm of such magnitude, but in the case of Matthew and Florida, there is one very specific problem that the hurricane may make worse: Zika.
Florida is the only state in the union where the Zika virus has been spread by resident mosquitoes, as opposed to being introduced by people who have been infected elsewhere on their travels. As of Sept. 28, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 59 locally-transmitted cases so far in the Sunshine State. And there are a number of ways in which the impending storm might affect Zika's spread.
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First of all, developing storm conditions are temporarily interrupting mosquito control efforts; for example, Miami-Dade County has taken down its mosquito surveillance traps so that they don't blow away. Additionally, in a storm's immediate aftermath, public health resources are likely to be diverted to more pressing concerns. When the storm hits, its initial impact on the state's mosquitoes is likely to be positive, from a human perspective, as the storm washes away many of the eggs that have been laid and the winds blow away a lot of the adult mosquitoes.
It's what happens in the weeks afterward that is a problem. The storm is almost certain to result in large areas of standing water, which can provide perfect breeding sites for a rebounding mosquito population. Aedes aegypti, the species that spreads Zika, generally doesn't breed in open pools of water, but prefers to stay close to humans, laying its eggs in the likes of flower pots, discarded tires -- and the kind of detritus that is left lying around in a hurricane's wake. It's relatively late in the season for the spread of such viruses though, Peter Hotez of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College told the Atlantic's Adrienne LaFrance.
Conversely, the amount of people exposed to the mosquitoes may be disproportionately greater than usual. Lafrance notes that, despite a local population decline in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the total number of cases of West Nile Disease jumped by 50 percent -- largely, scientists determined, because more people were living outside in shelters or badly-damaged housing, or awaiting evacuation.
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Even those in houses that remain standing may be more at risk of being bitten by mosquitoes because power outages are likely in the storm's wake, forcing people to open doors and windows for cool air -- which is even more of a problem if the storm has torn away or damaged bug screens.
At least one expert, however, is less concerned by mosquitoes than she is by humans fleeing the hurricane's paths. Dawn Wesson of Tulane University in Louisiana told Florida's WGCU News that, "I think it would be more likely that people evacuating, who might be infected, could potentially move the virus around."
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