WASHINGTON • The two mosquito species that carry the Zika virus are usually present in Missouri, two top health officials in President Barack Obama’s administration said Monday as they escalated warnings over the virus’ threat in the United States this year.
The presence of the mosquitoes does not necessarily mean they will be carrying Zika when the weather warms, the health officials stressed. But a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention map shows the Aedes aegypti or Aedes albopictus mosquitoes that can carry the virus are normally present in 30 states. As the virus spread across South America and the Caribbean, U.S. government health officials had originally identified Southern states as the most likely to face outbreaks.
Missouri has both the aegypti and albopictus strains, with the former more likely to appear in the western part of the state, according to the CDC map. The St. Louis region and the state of Illinois are more likely to have the albopictus, which research so far has shown is not as capable of carrying the virus as the aegypti is, according to the CDC.
The virus usually causes mild symptoms, such as fevers and rashes, but is a serious threat in pregnancy because it can cause severe birth defects in fetuses.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases at the National Institute of Health, said recent research has shown the disease can also be transmitted through sexual contact.
Fauci said human trials on a vaccine could begin in September, but he and a top CDC official told reporters at a White House briefing that it will take more money than Congress has appropriated to fight the disease.
“The more we learn, the more concerned we actually get to what this virus can do,” Fauci said, comparing it to the rubella outbreak of the 1960s, which caused birth defects in 20,000 children annually in the U.S. before a vaccine was developed.
Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, said that the map of where the mosquito that spreads the Zika virus can be found was expanded after more on-the-ground surveys.
“With increased information, we recognize that the Aedes aegypti mosquito may be present in about 30 states, as far north as San Francisco, Kansas City, Mo., and New York City,” she said. “So that is also a greater concern, because where the mosquito is present it is possible that local transmission could occur.”
As of Monday, the CDC said there were 346 cases of the Zika virus identified in the continental United States, and 354 in U.S. territories, primarily in Puerto Rico. Most in the U.S. were infected while traveling abroad in areas where the virus is spreading, particularly the Caribbean and Central and South America.
Three cases have been reported in Missouri and 10 in Illinois.
Complicating this fight, cities have pulled back on killing mosquitoes because of environmental and budgetary concerns.
Moreover, this particular species of mosquito is not the one that many Americans are accustomed to, Schuchat said.
It does not hang around water; it lives inside and outside homes, it can bite five to 10 people, and its bite does not prompt the itchiness and bump commonly associated with a mosquito bite, they said.
“The areas in the community where all the nuisance mosquitoes are aren’t necessarily the same areas where the Aedes aegypti is,” Schuchat said.
Communities will have to recalibrate mosquito control programs, she said, to “actually go out and look and see where are the Aedes aegypti and how can we control it.” Among other things, she said, indoor spraying in outbreak areas may be necessary.
The Obama administration has asked for an additional $1.8 billion to fight Zika, but Congress has not acted. Schuchat and Fauci said the government has identified $589 million to immediately fight the disease, including $510 million appropriated for the Ebola outbreak largely under control in western Africa.