- As we near the edge towards the beginning of summer talk of the “Zika” virus will be on the minds of many residents in the United States. We don’t know yet the impact it will have but researchers from several American institutions have calculated that the virus could result in total costs ranging from $183 million to over $1.2 billion, depending on infection rates in several at-risk states in the South.The researchers warn that infection rates could engender costs that exceed the amounts of money the U.S. government may give for prevention and treatment, if the recent debates over funding are any indication. Dr. Peter Hotez the Dean for the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine states “We had the sense that Congress was really not aware of the depth and breath of the vulnerability of the Gulf Coast regions,”.Hotez also stated that “One of the problems is we did not do active surveillance for Zika along the Gulf Coast,so we still do not know the true number of cases that happened last year. And we are not going to know that until we see the number of babies born with birth defects due to Zika going into the summer months. So we are not out of the woods yet, with respect to last year’s epidemic.”
With many episodes of warm weather over the last several months has made for higher numbers of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, and as they are the main carriers for the virus it is leaving the scientific community wondering where Zika could spread to next.
The team published its results Thursday in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.
The researchers focused on various levels of infection across Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas — states with climates well suited to the mosquitoes that carry the disease. In addition, poverty in the region contributes, through factors like poor housing and environmental degradation that can boost to mosquito numbers and infection rates. And then there is all the travel passing through major gateways in the region.
A Zika attack rate of 0.01 percent across this region would cost society $183.4 million, including both direct medical costs and productivity losses, resulting from the burden of the disease.
Raising that by one order of magnitude, to 0.1 percent, would cost $274.6 million. A 1 percent infection rate would cost $1.2 billion, and 2 percent would exceed $2 billion.
These estimates are not unimaginable or even especially pessimistic. In fact, the team aimed to be a bit conservative. “As we aimed to be conservative in our estimations, our model in many ways may underestimate the economic burden of Zika,” the team said. “Our analyses indicate that the health and economic burden of even low attack rates of Zika in the Continental US would be both substantial and enduring.”
A strain of the Zika virus first confirmed in Brazil in 2015 has now spread to more than 40 countries, and many researchers believe the disease is already present in the United States. Its symptoms can at first resemble those of far less dangerous diseases, such as the flu, but its effects can severely impair people for life.
It has been linked to microcephaly in babies born to infected women. In these cases, the brain of unborn or infant children fail to develop, leading to lifelong mental impairment and abnormally small skulls.
Zika has also been linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disease where the immune system attacks the nervous system.
The researchers say their study is an attempt to better inform the debate over how much money the U.S. government should devote to Zika prevention and treatment.