NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Local experts are closely monitoring the Zika virus. The virus is spread to humans from mosquitoes and it's believed to be linked to pregnant women giving birth to babies with microcephaly, a condition that can cause brain damage and even death.
Dawn Wesson with the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine now heads up a Zika task force.
"I think it is very, very likely that we will see cases locally transmitted, locally acquired cases in the United States, quite possibly as early as this summer in places like South Florida, South Texas, South California,"Wesson said. "Those areas all have the mosquitoes that can transmit the virus and there's a lot of movement between areas where the virus is currently being transmitted and those areas."
Wesson said New Orleans also has both mosquito species that can transmit the virus, and she expects to see it spread here, too. But due to air-conditioning and screened windows here in the U.S., she doesn't believe we will see as many cases.
"I don't expect to see those really high, that really high transmission potential in most areas in the U.S.," Wesson said. "Now there probably are neighborhoods in some of our larger cities in the South where you could see some high case numbers coming in, but I wouldn't expect to see tens of thousands cases like we are seeing in some of these other areas."
Dr. Aaron Thompson is medical director for Children's Hospital's Emergency Department. He said there is no evidence of the virus being transmitted in the U.S. so far.
"Right now, the recommendation is if you are pregnant or if you are planning on trying to get pregnant soon to avoid travel to the areas where this virus is being found, and primarily right now that's South America, Central America, Mexico and a few of the islands in the Caribbean," said Thompson.
In the meantime, Wesson and her team will be monitoring the situation closely.
"I wouldn't expect our mosquito populations to be sufficient to transmit the virus here probably until at the very earliest late May, early June. And even then the populations are going to be relatively low, really more July. August is when we see those populations start getting more numerous," Wesson said.
The Zika Task Force at Tulane University is working with those on the front lines in places like Brazil, Mexico and other areas where the virus is currently spreading and offering them help. The task force will also be looking at local mosquitoes to see how well they are able to transmit the virus in the coming months.