Health experts in the United States have warned that rising temperatures over the coming months could see the Zika virus spread rapidly, particularly in southern states.
The virus, which has spread quickly in Latin America and can cause a severe birth defect, is transmitted via mosquito bites, media reports say.
Around 30 people in the U.S. thus far have been diagnosed with Zika, but most of these cases were in people who recently returned from countries where the virus is spreading. There has only been one case of transmission within the U.S. involving an individual who had sexual intercourse with someone who had recently returned from Latin America.
The type of mosquito capable of transmitting the disease is found in states such as Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.
“If [a US outbreak is] going to happen, I think it will happen in the warmer months, likely in April and May,” Dr. Peter Hotez, Dean of National School of Tropical Medicine, said, according to Daily Mail.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is creating a control program which will include public education about Zika and spraying to kill mosquito populations.
“[W]e want to make sure that we have got a strategy to try to limit the spread of this disease when that happens,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
The CDC confirmed Feb. 3 that there had been a case of Zika spread via sexual intercourse in Dallas County, Texas, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to call for further investigation.
“We certainly understand the concern. This needs to be further investigated to understand the conditions and how often or likely sexual transmission is, and whether or not other bodily fluids are implicated,” said WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl, according to CBC.
The WHO declared a global health emergency over Zika Feb. 1.
Symptoms of the Zika virus can include a rash, usually lasting about a week. However, the news that the virus can be spread by having sex is concerning because the majority of those infected show no or few symptoms.
“80 percent of people aren’t aware so the question is might men have this in their semen and not even be aware they are transmitting it?” Dr. Mark Loeb of McMaster University told CBC.