Health & Science

What Will It Take To Eradicate Zika?

Health experts and elected officials say it is possible to eliminate Zika virus, but there are numerous obstacles and any action has been slow to develop.

Aedes aegypti mosquito on skin
A female Aedes aegypti mosquito

It might surprise you to learn that the Aedes aegypti mosquito was virtually eradicated in Central and South America in the 1960s. So how did it end up sweeping across Latin America 50 years later?

Dr. Peter Hotez with Baylor College of Medicine said the mosquito resurged, in part, because the United States didn’t take any action on eradicating the species here.

“By 1970, one of the last reservoirs of Aedes aegypti in the Western Hemisphere was on the Gulf Coast of the United States. To the point, where Latin American countries were complaining that they were being reinfested by Aedes aegypti coming from the Gulf Coast,” said Hotez, who is dean of Baylor National School of Tropical Medicine.

Latin American countries had managed to eradicate the species through aggressive public awareness campaigns and literally millions of housecalls. Health workers would knock on doors, educate people about the risks of standing water, and then go through houses and yards to treat breeding grounds.

Hotez, who was a guest on Houston Matters, said the same strategy could work today, although it is labor-intensive and a hard sell to the public.

“In addition to being labor-intensive, requiring lots of people, it tends to violate cultural norms of privacy,” Hotez said. “Believe it or not, in Texas people are not very eager to receive knocks on the door saying ‘we’re coming into your house to do insecticidal spraying.'”

On top of the logistical obstacles, there’s the issue of cost. Many border and coastal municipalities are cash-strapped and this type of house-to-house approach can cost massive amounts of money.

House and Senate leaders are negotiating a deal on Zika-prevention funding that is likely to be approved before the Independence Day break.

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Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Executive Producer for News

Laurie Johnson leads daily news coverage for HPM. She helps reporters craft and sharpen their stories on tight deadlines, with the aim of getting the most relevant and current information into local newscasts. Laurie is a native Houstonian who started her career at Houston Public Media in 2002. She is...

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