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South Florida Hurricane Evacuees Could Spread Zika Throughout State

Pixabay/Public Domain

As South Floridians evacuate ahead of Hurricane Matthew, experts warn this could spread the Zika virus. The storm is expected to hit the east coast—an area of the state with the most local Zika cases. Those fleeing Miami could also take the virus with them.

Dawn Wesson is a researcher at Tulane University in Louisiana.She’s been watching the spread of Zika closely. And now as a hurricane approaches Zika-infected Miami-Dade County, she’s concerned that evacuees will spread the disease throughout the state. She’s not as worried about its usual carrier- the mosquito.

"I think it would be more likely that people evacuating, who might be infected, could potentially move the virus around more likely than a mosquito being blown from one spot to another," said Wesson. 

She said there is a possibility that storm winds could pass mosquitoes around, but she said the chances of that are “relatively low.” 

Wesson also worries that more Zika virus cases could pop up around South Florida during clean-up efforts after Hurricane Matthew hits the east coast.  She said the mosquitoes that carry Zika will most likely hide during the storm, and some may survive.

Wesson said after Hurricane Katrina hit her area in 2005, there was an increase in local West Nile Virus cases, also spread by mosquitos. 

"As people were coming back and trying to put things back together, we saw an increase in West Nile cases in both Louisiana and Mississippi in the affected areas near where the storm path had been," she said. "And we think that's most likely attributable to people most likely being more exposed than they would’ve been because of those recovery activities."

So Wesson said if Floridians spend more time outdoors picking up after the hurricane, they should make sure to wear mosquito repellent. 

Jessica Meszaros is a reporter and host of Morning Edition at WUSF Public Media, and former reporter and host of All Things Considered for WGCU News.
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